Friday, December 15, 2017

Fostering Community


How do you define community? Is it those directly around you? Those you go to school with?  Those who live in the same space as yourself?  At ASD we talk about community a whole lot, and often the term community is fluid and flexible.  In the Office of Service Learning we've had lots of conversations around the topic, often related to words such as "appreciation", "celebration" or "diversity". But try as we might, there are sometimes functional differences that create unintended distance between different members of our community. 

It is with the elimination of such distances that the Office of Service Learning works with a number of organizations - in this case namely the MS counseling office and the NJHS and MS Ambassadors program - to generate a bridge between our students, faculty and the people who work on our campus daily, and are integral in the success of our students, but who might go less noticed due to the nature of their work.  As with previous years, this years appreciation for our working community, took place in December. 

The approach this year was that by focusing on the celebration of diversity with those who we share this space, it will generate a better connection between all our community members, even if we might have difficulty speaking their language or we have larger cultural differences. The series of advisory sessions, the lunch and the activities provided by the MS students all formed a special "day" for all of us. 

They say "it takes a village" and at ASD we take the time to bridge gaps between our constituents so as to build a greater sense of community where we are. After all, the world is so much of a better place when we know each other's name and take the time to share our stories as well. Not only does that challenge assumptions, but is also allows us to appreciate the whole of humanity right here!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

NESA Puts Service Learning on the Map

Two weekends ago NESA, the regional professional development association for international and American schools in the Near East and South Asia conducted its annual Fall Training Institute (FTI) for teachers. Among the many teachers in attendance - in a variety of strands - were a number of ASD teachers who were there to develop their skills and collaborate with professionals at other schools in meaningful ways. This year's FTI also marked the beginning of a new era of sorts for NESA through the creation of a NESA Collaborative on Service Learning, Sustainability Education and Global Citizenship aiming to engage schools in more meaningful, authentic learning as well as developing what we, at ASD, call critical consciousness. 

Following a great weekend institute with Mike Johnston (Head of School at Colegio Maya in Guatemala) on systems thinking, sustainability education and service learning, the six members of the newly formulated NESA Collaborative met to define the direction of these educational approaches regionally. Representing the American School of Dubai was Laurence Myers, K-12 Service Learning Coordinator. Generating a great deal of support from the NESA administration, the Collaborative's work resulted in a visionary statement of purpose and professional development recommendations for the coming academic year. 

Though this was a small step in terms of immediate impact, it was none-the-less an important one in re-defining educational opportunities for our students by promoting deeper understand of the world through systems thinking, connections between our curriculum and the world around us, and establishing a more direct learning for our children. By focusing on their ability to make change around them through systems thinking, especially as it related to Sustainable Development Goals, students can more meaningfully engage in "think global, act local". 

The larger 'take away' from both the institute and the Collaborative's work was the fact that service learning cannot be regarded as a niche educational process but, as a connector of curricula, outcomes and strategies, it can and should become a valuable tool in all schools across the region and around the world. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Behind the Scenes - Sharing Insights

Education isn't all about what you see... in fact it's often layer upon layer of planning, thinking, collaboration, redoing, failing and planning some more. Some of that is visible to students and parents, but often it's out of view. Regardless of whether or not something is visible or not, it's important to note that, as educators, we believe in the power of learning in all its forms. The excerpt below was shared by an ES teacher who is currently working on a service learning project involving food waste, linking it to data collection and analysis through mathematics. It is shared here with the hope that it sheds a small bit of light on the behind-the-scenes conversations and connections related to service learning... 

Just sharing insights:
  • Kids were thinking about food waste from their perspective--food they don't eat.
  • [The canteen vendor] was thinking about food waste from his preparation perspective--food he over makes that's not eaten.
As he was answering questions, I figured out what was happening with the answers and questions.  

He shared the math that happens on his side as he projects what he needs to make based on what kids have eaten; he shared that rice isn't wasted a lot because it only takes 10 minutes to prepare so they can keep preparing it as it is used so there's less waste, but vegetables are often wasted more on the prep side because they have to be made in advance so it's purely a guess based on history.

The kids were thinking that they get way too much rice and don't eat it so they were shocked that more wasn't wasted.  That's when I realized that the two (kids versus the cafeteria vendor) were talking about different perspectives of food waste.  

I thought it was interesting and wanted to share.

The beauty of service learning is that it's authentic. In so saying it allows us to challenge our own views toward a perceived "need". It allows students (and adults too) to engage in an investigation without knowing the answer, and sometimes without recognizing the connections. It is through the process that the power of service learning lies. In this case the connection was shared by the teacher involved. But students and vendors too make connections between perspectives, action plans, outcomes, successes and failures. It is in authentic learning moments like these that we can develop our "critical consciousness" and the fact that our perspective - as our life experience - is one of many and it's the totality that allows the deeper learning. 

All great conversations, connections and learning!

Monday, October 30, 2017

1st Dubai Civic Engagement Summit: A Collaborative Platform for Dubai-based Schools

Schools in Dubai are blessed with a diverse student population that is actively involved in a range of service organizations; however, few have the opportunity to venture past the confines of their school walls. There is a possibility for students to create a larger impact not only inside their individual school communities but also in the city as a whole. The force of change that could be created by students if they were to collaborate across schools would be unimaginable. 

On October 28, 2017, over 30 students representing service organizations from five different schools (Jumeirah College, Dubai College, GEMS World Academy, Dubai American Academy & the American School of Dubai) came together at ASD to participate in the Civic Engagement Summit. The Summit was a first-of-its-kind initiative to encourage students in service organizations from schools across Dubai to combine their passions and resources and collaborate on greater goals to make a meaningful impact on Dubai communities. 

Students were given opportunities to network and interact with each other through ice breakers before interacting with the co-founder of UAE's fist licensed youth organization, Step Up. Then, attendees split up into workshop groups, where they collaborated with students from different schools in service organizations with similar missions to brainstorm and develop ideas into potential projects for future collaborations. Students formulated a range of projects from a large-scale book fair promoting literacy to a boat race in which schools compete with each other by crating boats made from recycled materials. 

The Summit was an great success and most students were eager to pursue their projects after the event; however, this is only the beginning. Student must use this network to their advantage and reach out to other students and schools in order to build a long-lasting network. Now it's up to us and the opportunities that are to follow are endless. 

by Gayatri Babel
Civic Engagement Summit Founder & Lead Organizer
ASD Service Learning Mentorship Participant

CNN Hero, Aki Ra, Visits ASD!

A while back an ASD family (prior to their arrival in Dubai) was in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Walking into the Landmine Museum just outside the town they were greeted by a man by the name of Bill Morse. Bill has given up much to support the work of Aki Ra, who grew up as a Cambodian child soldier who, after years of war and killing, took it upon himself to de-mine as much of his region's countryside as he could. The ASD family was so impacted by the experience they they felt the story needed to be shared in our community. 

A true modern day hero, Aki Ra has found support through his family, local community and, as the word spread, numerous international organizations. In 2010 he was recognized as a CNN Hero. ASD was fortunate to have Aki Ra and Bill Morse visit to deepen social studies curriculum and an awareness of global issues through a series of conversations and Q & A sessions.  Students indicated that having a first hand account of war and subsequent events to support community has been hugely beneficial to the broadening of their "critical consciousness".

The visit took place over the course of a week and included two assembly addresses to the MS and HS as well as classroom visits to deepen learning in HS and MS social studies classrooms. They were also able to meet with the teacher sponsors of the MS Week Without Walls trips to Cambodia which resulted in a new collaboration between ASD and the Landmine Relief Fund. We are hopeful that the connections will last a long time and that ASD students will be able to visit over a number of years to support their work both with the museum and also with the numerous rural schools that they have build to support community development. 

While here Aki Ra and Bill Morse were also able to meet with parents, the Superintendent Dr. Richards as well as be interviewed by the HS broadcasting team. The team's interview can be seen below. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Room to Read: A Blueprint for Community Partnerships

It happens on Saturdays. While many members of our community are still getting up, a committed group of HS Room to Read students heads out to a school across town to work with students at the Little Flower School. Their task? To support the learning of children in grades 3-5 at the school. Offering enrichment opportunities students from the Little Flower school arrive with their homework, to receive support from ASD students. The work is differentiated by the student receiving the support. 

Research would suggest that such local, ongoing, partnerships are a great way to support education and broaden understanding and skills related to culture and literacy. The fact is that such experiences are often quite powerful for our students in as much that they allow those involved to generate a deeper critical consciousness about the world around us. 

Though this type of direct community engagement is, according to research, a very powerful tool to creating lasting relationships and deeper learning - both for the individuals and the schools involved - it is not easily found in Dubai. At ASD we recognize the benefit of such ongoing community relationships and we hope that the prototype offered by Room to Read will be one we can replicate across student organizations. 

Moving forward, several ASD student organizations - SEENAH, SHINE, GIN, Cure and Acacia in particular - are aiming at direct involvement with the issues that matter to their respective organization through direct partnerships with local community members (both within the school and outside of it). 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

How We Make Our Children Service-Minded, Global Contributors

On October 16, Mr. Myers (K-12 Service Learning Coordinator) presented a Talk Tuesday on the topic of How We Make Our Children Service-Minded, Global Contributors

Below is the recording of the presentation for those interested in knowing about the connections between the Sustainable Development Goals, Service Learning, Contribution and the development of critical consciousness in our students. It is placed here as a resource for this who might want to take a look. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

SEENAH Jumble Sale Success!

This post marks the first submission by a student author on this blog!  Apart from the content of the post - which you will find very informative - this also marks an expansion of how the blog is used by our community. We hope that this blog is not simply an update of the Office of Service Learning but a voice for the entire community to share contribution "in a rapidly changing world"...

The annual SEENAH Jumble Sale took place on Friday, October 13 in the ASD field house. It was extremely successful, with around AED 18,000 made, which will be used in the future SEENAH HOPES (trips to labour camps to deliver care packages). All manner of goods were sold, from household items to clothing. Live entertainment featuring acts such as the Faculty Band was also present, along with a cafe that sold various treats. 

The Jumble Sale has it's 200 volunteers to thank for it's success, as well as the many customers that shopped and bargained that day. Leading up to the big day, volunteers focused on collections from collection bins around the school, as well as sorting items into categories to get ready for sale day. For the leaders, it required many early morning trips to faculty advisors, a few lunch meetings and countless after school sessions. 

Although it was a huge task, and daunting at first as it was my first year in a position of leadership, I knew that the hard work we were putting in was going to better someone else's life, and this gave us the motivation to work even harder, and to be the best at our jobs that we could be. Over time I was able to understand the process behind running a club and making sure everything is organized, from volunteer attendance to reimbursements for organization T-Shirts. It was a learning process, but on the day of the Jumble Sale it was amazing to see all our hard work put into action.  It was also wonderful to see so many volunteers working and people coming to buy things for such a great cause. 

I'm already looking forward to next year, as I know we can do even better with more experience. As soon as the Jumble Sale was over, the leaders were already suggesting things to do better on next year! We're also extremely excited for our next HOPE, as with the money made through the Jumble Sale and food items donated from Middle School World Food Day, a real difference can be made to the lives of Dubai's workers. I think that, this year, the HOPE will become even more meaningful as I will see the rewards of hard work in the form of service. 

Overall, the entire experience has been something that has enriched me as a person, and I know the other leaders feel the same. We've learnt life skills we'll never forget, from organization to immense responsibility, all of which I know has made me a better, more service-minded person. Even after I have left ASD, my experience with service work will stay with me, and shape me into the person I become later in life. 

SEENAH Treasurer

Monday, October 2, 2017

Grade 3 Talking Service Learning!

Grade 3 has started off the year of service learning early this year!  Part of their work has been focused studying the initiatives of other children who have become change makers (see Campbell's story and Milo's story) and recognizing that each of us has a "role to play" in making the world a better place. 

But what is also important is an understanding of service learning and the multi-directional relationship between service and learning. How do we define service learning? What can we learn from serving others?  How can we serve while learning?  What might that look like?  Those are questions that grade 3 students are currently answering as they build their skills in communication, presenting, collaboration!

The pictures above are indicative of the learning experiences that students are involved in as they gain a deeper understanding on what service learning is, how it is structured and the many forms of learning that take place through service.  Then, as they relate that to our examples of young change makers (above), we allow them to generate a much more solid understanding of the change that one can make in his/her community.

All great things with our young learners!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

HS Students Start Their 2017-18 Engines

It's the Saturday of the first full week of school. Do you know where your children are? We do!  They are busy developing their leadership skills either as facilitators of learning or as participants in learning. 

Last weekend brought with it the enthusiasm and energy of over 100 HS student leaders who took part in the 2017 Student Leadership Retreat. This year's theme - Collaboration and Cohesion - focused on uniting HS student leaders in ASDs 34 service, academic and leadership organizations to share pertinent information, best practices and generate plans for the year ahead. For those in pilot organizations it also provided planning time to work on developing their mission statements, their constitutions as well as structure their organizations. 

The day itself included some inspiration from Mr. Ataya, CEO of BAYT.COM (and ASD parent) and our new HS Associate Principal, Kevin Brawn before the requisite "nuts and bolts" by Mr. Myers. Students then participated in sessions related to their organization as well as hugely popular job-alike sessions before being given time to plan and collaborate with the support of their advisors. 

All in all a great start to a year of contribution focused largely on collaboration between organizations and cohesion as a community!  A big thank you goes out to the organizing committee (comprised of member of the SGA, GIN and NHS)!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Scout Uniform Sales Set the Tone

They say the best way to do your part for the planet is to "reduce" what you use. Certainly with an item such as a school uniform - where its use is limited to this time and space - it makes perfect sense to expand its use and keep it out of the landfill. 

The Scouts do a wonderful job with collecting uniforms from those who have left the school or have outgrown their old clothing. For several years they have been integral in running the used uniform sale, and you would have seen them already at work at the first day of school!  Anecdotal accounts would suggest that hundreds of uniforms get reused in this manner. What a great way to "set the tone" for a great, more sustainably minded, year at ASD!  

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Welcome to a New Year of Contribution!

A very warm welcome to the ASD Community from the Office of Service Learning!  As the year quickly starts up, we are eager to continue our work from the previous years in offering authentic learning opportunities to both student and adult member of our community!  From our perspective it's important to share our goals for the year and to invite you all to the table of service learning, sustainability, global citizenship building and making the world a better place!  

Service Learning Priorities 2017-18

  • Expand partnerships (NESA, Dubai-based)
  • Increase authentic student learning experiences (experiential ed., field trips, etc.) 
  • Support MS Week Without Walls through sustainability & service learning focus
  • Engage in ASD strategic planning
  • Develop sustainability-related action plans (data, best practices, etc.) 
  • Create Professional Learning Communities to support teaching & learning
  • Collaborate with KHDA to streamline student organization events & activities
  • Expand collaboration with parent organizations

Sustainable Garden Priorities 2017-18
  • Increase signage in the gardens
  • Develop garden school tour program
  • Increase awareness of garden-related programs
  • Increase use of garden spaces by all community members
  • Increase composting system 
  • Generate mechanism for data collection of composting
  • Establish a new ES mud kitchen
  • Introduce a new garden for Global Issues in Action (grade 9)
  • Expand use of MS, Grade 2 and Maze gardens.

The items listed above, of course, are in addition to the already-established programs and learning opportunities we offer at ASD. We invite you to become involved, to share your thoughts, to give us your ideas, to be part of contributing to a rapidly changing world!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Appreciation, Grade 4 Style!

It was perhaps a heavily guarded secret but for those fortunate enough to visit Ms. Wilkgen's grade 4 classroom as a visitor on any given Thursday during the year were greeted by a surprise cupcake!  How fun!  And for those "in the know" it was no surprise that, when talking later in the year about how best to show appreciation for the workers on our campus, they wanted to make cupcakes for them.  The idea built up steam quickly. 

For those who are aware of the service learning cycle investigation is what starts it off. The assumption that cupcakes would make a good culinary gift were slightly challenged when Ms. Carden was brought into the conversation. Given the varied cultural backgrounds of our workers, it was determined that the best approach was to interview some of them directly. What ensured was a deeper engagement based on inquiry. 

When it was all said and done the students had collected information from the Facilities Office and from some of the workers themselves. Then, guided by Ms. Carden (in the kitchen), Ms. Wiltgen and Ms. Zara, they did pretty much everything - from identifying an appropriate time and date, to finding Bangla music to share during the event, to decorating the tables in the ES cafeteria, to identifying the menu, preparing the food and serving those who so often selflessly support our collective learning!  The final result was near perfect!  

Students sitting and sharing conversation and great food with people they often don't have the opportunity to really get to know so much. The final touch was a rendition of We are the World due largely to one student's passion for Micheal Jackson. Even when it was over the details were thought of... nearly everything left over (which wasn't much) was composted or recycled!  

This was not a planned event. It was a spontaneous thought which caught on, supported by great educators, to allow our students to follow their dreams. What wonderful student-initiated learning and community engagement to finish off a year of contribution at ASD! 

And how does this impact student "critical consciousness"?  Well, below is the reflection of one student; one of many thoughtful reflections shared with us following the event. 

"This is what I learned:
During the project on making the workers food for a day it was a great experience for me because I had to live in their shoes. I realized that it is very difficult job to do what the ASD staff and janitors do. For example, we had 20 people cleaning after 50 people but for the workers one or two people have to clean after 120 people.
Now I have a huge amount of respect for all of the workers and when I was walking in the hallway one worker said "Hi Samir."  That really shocked me and I was so happy he new my name and I knew his. In another example of learning, we did math problems.
For example, when we had to know how many plates and how many samosas per plate. That shows that we had to do multiplication and devision problems.
Thank you Mr. Myers for helping us plan.
Thank you Miss.Black for also helping is plan and believing in us.
Thank you Miss.Carden for helping us cook and for bringing the fruits and vegetables.
Thank you Miss. Zara for helping us organize the whole thing and doing the posters and the snow flakes.
Thank you Miss. Wiltgen for making this possible.

                                          Samir 4WL. "

Monday, June 5, 2017

New Grade 2 Garden Tables, Courtesy of PTSA!

A while back the grade 2 students celebrated a change they initiaties in the second floor garden space. It was after their request to Mr. Advento that they were granted a new spigot. Well, they're back!  After their early success, they children opted to make the space even more suitable for use by all. After some further in-depth conversations with Ms. de Leon and Ms. Carden the students decided on a set of new tables (with umbrellas) to be set up in the same space. That will allow students a chance to benefit from share and workspace as they interact with their growing plants. It also creates a new space for respite for the rest of the community!

In a small opening ceremony today the children shared their story while developing their skills in being good hosts, speakers and collaborators. They also had a chance to write an article (shared as photos above for full effect) to share on this blog!  All in a day's work for these action planners!