February 2017

As a step towards strengthening our service learning programme at St. John’s, we organized a job shadowing visit with the CAS coordinator of ISB, Michelle Brown. Here is a comparative overview of CAS at these two schools:

Structure of CAS at ISB (2016-2017) Structure of CAS at St. John’s (2016-2017)
  • +/- 500 students
  • 34 advisories
  • mixed grade levels 10/11/12
  • +/- 125 students
  • 7-8 advisories
  • Separate grade levels
  • Each student obliged to participate once per year in their affiliated project, they are given free choice for their remaining service opportunities
  • 11th graders can choose to lead the affiliated local service projects, which thus become their CAS projects or they can select their own project
  • Focus on commitment to one project rather than a wide spectrum of different ones
  • 40-80 students actively participating in projects each weekend during the year
  • Students are given free choice in service projects, only emergency cases are directed to specific volunteering opportunities
  • 11th graders choose their CAS projects, service related projects are supervised by a skilled adult among staff
  • Focus is on learning through ongoing reflection, reflection is taught in CAS Core classes (bi-weekly)

Michelle is a dynamic, dedicated and cheerful person who warmly welcomed me with the following statistics:

The data seems to be telling its own story. It seems ISB has managed to transform the concept of CAS to highlight service learning as its core. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this transformation has meant some conflicts of interest for students trying to balance their sports commitments with their service requirements. The transformation required a firm hand and many years of hard work, resulting in the following model:

The service learning placements are coordinated by the CAS coordinator. Partnerships with local NGOs have been built over the years, creating ample amounts of trust and reliability on both sides. There’s a strong commitment to direct service, which means that students experience solidarity through their own actions. Students are usually engaged with the same organisation for their three years of CAS, as the programme is introduced in grade 10.

One crucial difference is in the policy of CAS/Service Learning: ISB maintains a minimum expectation of hours, so that clear requirements can be established for the students around the advisory affiliated community projects and so that ISB are able to meet the expectations of the affiliated community projects. At ISB service is a requirement for the ISB diploma and not just the IB diploma. To graduate, students are required to do 50 hours of service, out of which 25 hours must be carried out locally by volunteering in Belgium and Brussels. (30 hours of Activity and 30 hours of Creativity are expected.) The community projects are coordinated by Michelle, who arranges a supervisor for each placement, relying on staff and parents to sign off the list at attendees and the reflections on students.

The placements are organized on the weekends. Transport is not organized by the school, it is expected that students take responsibility for their logistics arrangements. Parents are made aware of the need to support them in this respect. Student leaders are in charge of sending reminders, communicating with chaperones, planning the activity, and taking attendance. Google spreadsheets are used to manage the system of placements.

Fundraising is also structured around the coordinator’s office: permission has to be granted from the coordinator and the head of school for any fundraising activity. The beneficiaries of the funds, the time and form of the event are to be communicated in advance. The funds raised are transferred to the Business Office and then on to the organisations. Food based fundraisers must return the funds to projects that feed people. New fundraising initiatives must be presented at an Assembly to check the integrity and relevance of the initiative.

On a personal note, the system at ISB has particularly touched me because of the clear commitment to local volunteering in social projects. Michelle and the school fully acknowledge their role in the social-economic reality of the Brussels region by giving back to the communities that host school’s community. Great amounts of determination and consistency were needed to build up the system around this vision. This has not prevented the coordinator from accepting with a smile that not everybody will like her ideas. Yet, the programme and the data above speak for themselves: this is a school that takes its mission to give back to the community seriously.

We are thankful for Michelle Brown for openly and whole-heartedly collaborating with us.

Miki Ambrozy