Education

Creativity, activity, service (CAS) and service learning

Now, be it due to my British heritage or not, I sure do love a good cup of tea. I blame my Nana. Her tea was all anyone ever needed in a moment of uncertainty or unrest. So, in these changing and potentially disorienting times, I feel that it is necessary to ground ourselves. To sit back and take stock of why we are here, involved in the business of learning and teaching.

We may all be in the process of taking a big, deep breath and readjusting ourselves to what might become a ‘new normal’ in terms of our approach to learning and teaching in these unusual present circumstances. However, I find myself wanting to cling onto and celebrate that experiential, authentic and incredibly meaningful learning that goes on behind and beyond the scope of our classroom walls. It makes me happy. It’s like a good cup of Yorkshire tea in my favourite armchair. It makes me feel all warm and cosy inside. It reminds me of my Nana.

Grade 12 Students’ Personal Learning Journeys

In my role as Experiential Learning Coordinator at the High School, at this time of the year I have the pleasure of being able to listen to our Grade 12 students reflecting on their own personal learning journeys in their final CAS and Service Learning interviews. I feel that it is important to share some of their achievements and advice with our community. It will serve as a means of reminding us of their capacity to be thoughtful, motivated and sensitive human beings.

This short article will, therefore, capture two Grade 12 students’ experiences through the lens of one of the IB CAS and High School Service Programme Learning Outcomes, namely showing commitment and perseverance. This, in my opinion, is something that demonstrates how students can be resilient, independent and exercise their agency when given the opportunity. We don’t need to simply aspire to a mission that champions meaningful and authentic learning. We are living and breathing it in so many ways. If we keep our heads safely above water, we will discover that bitter taste and sweet aroma in no time. Come on, let’s wake up and smell the coffee tea!

Isaac

He is a student who makes me intensely proud. When he was in Grade 9 we sat together in an ‘alternative’ Service Learning Group. This group had been formed for those students who wanted to do something different. However, they weren’t quite sure what that was and if it would work. I was happy to support these students in their individual quests, and to help them get their ideas off the ground and put them into practice. Isaac had been involved a little in the Middle School with the website ‘7 Cups of Tea’. This website is an anonymous platform for young people supporting each other.

He had got himself trained as a ‘listener’ with that organisation, and coming into the High School, he wanted to see if he could train some of his peers. Isaac’s humble idea three years ago turned into what is today a popular Service Learning Group with students from all grades in the High School, and he talks about it as one of the best things that he has done as part of his IB CAS programme.

CAS offering opportunities

Whilst he sees his group ‘7 Cups of Tea’ as clearly fitting into the nature and aims of CAS, he began it purely out of his own personal motivation. The fact that it is ‘CAS’ for him is a lucky coincidence. What Isaac values the most, however, is that the school gave him the opportunity to pursue his idea, and this is what he considers to be important. When asked by his CAS Advisor and homeroom tutor Zoe Badcock what advice he would give to students starting their CAS programme, he replied:

If you want to help people, if you want to do things that you can be proud of, if you want to have these accomplishments, you need to go and do them… you need to commit to them and show that perseverance is necessary to achieve what you set out to do.

Thank you Isaac for reminding us to make the most of the opportunities that we are given. It is, after all, what we do that counts the most, not what we talk about doing.

Isabelle

Sharing an office with her CAS Advisor and homeroom tutor Bob Sugden enabled me to learn that Isabelle had completed her interview and that I would be so proud of what I heard when I listened.

At the start of her interview, Isabelle says that the skill she gained the most was ‘perseverance’. Isabelle expressed her wish in Grade 9 to pursue her passion of wanting to volunteer in an old people’s home. She aimed for this to serve as her High School service experience. Isabelle spent the whole year researching suitable old people’s homes in the local area. She would draft emails to them in German and trying to reach out to them. The reason that Isabelle wanted to pursue this was that she wanted to break down barriers between us. Both as an international school, and the local community:

I was really passionate about this issue and problem and that just motivated me to keep going.

At the end of Grade 9, she finally found a lady at a home who was open to the idea and, after some phone calls, Isabelle’s experience began. She continued going to the old people’s home throughout her time in the High School, and talks with passion and compassion about what her visits meant for her and the residents.

Applying skills to real life situations

Isabelle also mentions in her interview that what she really liked about the CAS programme was that it allowed her to apply skills that she learnt in her classes to real-life situations. She was a fairly confident German speaker when she began pursuing the idea in Grade 9, but she was by no means fluent. She knew that, whilst the potential interaction with others in the local community would be challenging, it would push her German skills to a higher level. Asked how she felt about the balance between her academic studies and her CAS programme, Isabelle recognised that it was quite onerous. However, in fact she gained from the time she put in on Fridays after school and on Saturdays:

Even though CAS is also work, it was kind of a work-life balance. This is because it was more of an interactive type of learning.

The benefit of commitment

Isabelle continued her commitment to the old people’s home because she could see and feel the benefits of it. This gave her the motivation to carry on. In one of her written reflections during this year she talks about the specific ‘need’ that her project met:

I learnt that with this kind of service project, I am building relationships. A lot of ‘charity work’ is based on fundraising to meet some sort of goal, however this endeavour is based on an emotional response to needs within the local community. It takes a lot more time and effort to break down barriers between age groups than it ever took me to raise money by organising a bake sale. My eyes have really been opened to a new kind of service – one that not only helps me grow to be more socially aware, but also makes others wanted and loved. Loneliness is a problem that many people face in our society, not only the elderly. I believe that it is with these seemingly ‘small’ acts of kindness that we can change this.

Conclusion

Isaac and Isabelle are certainly lovely examples of what commitment and perseverance look like. I am so glad to have played a part in enabling them to find and pursue their own personal paths. I am proud of their resilience, independence and compassion. Also, I am sure that my Nana would have been just as proud too.

One final comment from Isabelle reminds us of the importance of student ownership over their own learning. That we are certainly doing the right thing in providing opportunities for them to do so:

CAS just adds so much more to your experience as a learner. I think that a lot of educational systems are lacking something like this. I think what is great about CAS is that it is student-directed. You can choose what you want to do. Then you don’t feel like it’s work really because you are kind of like your own boss.

So, let’s all be our own boss. Take a moment to sit back, reflect, and have a nice cup of tea.

Author Bio

Dr Victoria Wasner

Dr Victoria Wasner is the Experiential Learning Coordinator in the High School, at the International School of Zug and Luzern

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