Over the past few years ISKL has been moving steadily toward a change of thinking with regard to service. The concept is simple. Charity is helpful, and in some cases (as is the situation with disasters, for example) essential, but there charity does not, on its own, bring forth lasting change and internally motivated citizens. To internalize a service-oriented, change maker mindset one needs personal connections and a deep understanding of how service connects to a sustainable future.
Take, for example, the idea of a student wanting to help the rainforests in Borneo. Certainly there is a recognition of a larger issue at hand - deforestation and loss of habitat - which is a great starting point. The child has a sale of sorts (hopefully not through the sale of virgin rainforest paper cards) and collects money, which he/she then sends along to an organization supporting rainforests. This is a great start to being a change maker for a positive future, but an arguably incomplete one.
Now add a bit to that. Allow the student to delve deeper into the context, to research, perhaps interview someone "on the ground". The student can also engage in identifying a authentic solution to address the issue at stake. It's a solution within his/her sphere of influence. And then, off to put the plan into action....
Last Saturday the Grade 5 Service Learning Showcase (pictures on the Sustainable ISKL Facebook page here) took place at the Melawati Studio. For those in attendance it was impressive to see the grade 5 students "doing their thing" with regard to addressing issues as varied as providing food for the homeless, supporting stray animals, giving voice to the undocumented children, healthy eating and integrating with refugee communities. Those taking the time to delve deeper would have revealed that the student participants "knew their stuff". Whether talking about how, exactly, funds to the SPCA would be used to support stray animals, to how personal decisions relate to the plight of the sun bears, to how and why to make a healthy snacks, the kids provided exceptional evidence of solid learning.
More importantly, the showcase was a great step to supporting the growth of a service learning mindset at Melawati. Younger students, teachers, parents and staff roamed the studio for several hours. The buzz was impressive but not quite as impressive as the recognition of what such events can do for a school community. How wonderful to have our little ones can roam the room and recognize just how much was done in the service of others. One can imagine how, with some guided inquiry from a teacher, these visiting students can recognize their own personal potential as a change maker in their family, their school, their community.
The Showcase was also a chance to take baby steps in recognizing that service to others need not be charity. The students themselves might not know it, but service learning is also a valuable tool to breaking down barriers, to "levelling the playing field" as they say, and to gently move away from the "us and them" dichotomy that makes charity a tricky learning tool sometimes. In the end, we will do great things - like changing the world for the better - if we have a conviction to make positive change, we recognize our personal potential and we know how to use the tools to make it so. It's already happening. :-)