Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Building a Change-Maker Mindset

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. :-)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Earth Week: What is Sustainability?

Often people will ask that very question: What is sustainability?  Other times people will assume that it's helping the environment, pure and simple. But the reality is that it's much more complex than that. This past week - Earth Week - we had the pleasure of welcoming Kate O'Connell (Compass Education), an elementary school teacher who uses tools whose focus is education for sustainability, to conduct a workshop for 14 of our ES teachers. 

The premise is that sustainability is essentially the interplay of different elements - in this case Nature, Economy, Society and Wellbeing (N,E,S and W) - in a systematic manner. Much of what Compass Education focuses on is the analysis of issues, trends, behaviors, etc., through the four compass points of sustainability (the N, E, S, and W) followed by the critical thinking required to determine cause-effect relationships and systems thinking. This is very similar to the ESD dimensions that we utilize at ISKL. 

What does all this have to do with our children?  Well, at ISKL many of our conversations revolving around critical thinking, ethical living, problem solving, etc., are geared around those types of sustainable thought processes. Children as young as three or four can understand the concept of cause and effect. Even before the can write they know that a seed, soil, water and sunshine can result in a beautiful plant and that can, in turn, provide seeds for future generations. Just this week, for example, our PS students just enjoyed the organic cucumbers they planted a while back!  But similar learning takes place across the entire school at developmentally appropriate levels.  

During Earth Week - and throughout the year - our classrooms conversations revolved around issues of being in the the outdoors (especially with our MS off to Malaysia Week), meat consumption (through Meatless Mondays), organic and locally produced food supply (through our very own gardens), energy, culture, human health, stress, artistic expression, culture, poverty, critical analysis of the media and a host of other meaningful educational experiences!  These are all sustainability conversations. Powerful ones.

Excellent teachers connect these conversations with sustainability thinking, add a pinch of empowerment and provide tools and processes that allow the understanding to become much, much deeper and the engagement much more meaningful. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Earth Week is Next Week!

Earth Week 2016 is upon us once again as we move into the final weeks of April. As is customary our MS faculty and students spend the week outdoors "in the wild"!  For the rest of us it's the routine with a bit of a twist. The following events might be of particular interest to parents and community members:
  • Farmer's Market & Community Recycling: Saturday, April 16 from 9:30 to 12:00 noon at the Ampang Front Parking lot. Bring your recycling and some extra cash and buy some goodies (and even eco-friendly cleaning agents)
  • Meatless Monday will take place on Monday, April 18 on both campuses. On this day we inviting the community to reduce consumption of meat in support of the planet and will not be offering beef on the menu. Chicken and fish will be available.  
  • Clothing Donations in support of the Chin Student Organization will be accepted all week (by the bussing lane and entrances of each campus)
  • ES Uniform Swap at Melawati on Wed & Thu, April 20-21 for those with children who have outgrown their uniforms and wouldn't mind swapping it for a gently used one brought in by another family. 
  • The Grade 2 Show highlighting "being green" will take place on Friday at 8:30 am in the Studio
  • Feel free to visit the garden in the Ampang administration courtyard to see the MS artwork aptly named "In Celebration of the TREE"
  • At any time feel free to "like" the Sustainable ISKL Facebook page (www.facebook.com/sustainableiskl) to keep up with all things "eco" and service related at school!
Of course, the best thing you, as parents, can do for your children is to lead by example and to have the meaningful conversations that are essential on growing up in a rapidly changing world. They say it takes a village to grow global citizens and what better an opportunity than to focus on the place we all call home. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Clothing Donations at ISKL

Melawati bin: inside Exit 6 adjacent to the field
Ampang bin: Front Parking Lot

For years we've been trying to determine the best way forward for end-of-use clothing. For the past few months a number of concerned parents, our Director of Development Mr. Charles Davis and our Sustainability & Service Learning Coordinator Mr. Laurence Myers have been working on finding an on-campus solution for those families looking for a place to discard or donate clothing. 

With Earth Week just a week or so away (April 16-23) one great idea is to support the Green Council's clothing drive on the Ampang campus. The clothing donated to this initiative will be given to the Chin Students Association for the children there. The Red Hats are also rumored to be organizing a clothing drive at Melawati as well.  Then there is the ever-popular uniform swap organized by 5BW. 

For those unable to donate during Earth Week, however, we have started up a new partnership with an company named Life Line Clothing. Though they donate some clothing to charity, the majority of their work utilizes the cloth either as is or by making into other clothing items, depending on the quality of the product. Their work revolves around providing clothing to low-income markets. A portion of their proceeds go to three charitable organizations in KL. 

At ISKL we have placed two large donation bins at the following locations (pictured):
  • Ampang: At the end of the Ampang front parking lot (next to the recycling tent) 
  • Melawati: Inside the entrance of the bussing lane (exit 6) in the parking lot area adjacent to the field. 
Please feel free to support this program if you have uniforms with the ISKL logo or any clothing which you are comfortable donating. 

We hope that this will provide our community an avenue to donate their clothing either for the benefit of our community (as in the clothing swap), local community organizations (such as the Green Council or Red Hats initiatives) or for on-going support in regions where affordable clothing is necessary. 

Thank you for your continued support of sustainable practices and keeping useful things from the landfill. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Ecology of a New Campus


A few weeks ago Dr. Hudson announced that clearance and demolition work on the new campus site at Ampang Hilir is already underway. The new campus will feature 25.7 acres of purpose-built campus that will be a beacon for quality international education. It will be not just a school, but also a shining example of sustainable practices in energy, water and resource use. The campus is being designed with Malaysia’s Green Building Index (GBI) Platinum rating in mind. From an “exceptional education meets sustainable design” standpoint it is exactly where want to be in the coming years if we’re building a future based on responsible global citizenship. 
But such developments, no matter how visionary, do not come without cost. One such cost is that of the natural assets that currently exist on the site that, understandably, need to be demolished so that the new campus can be built. There are approximately 250 mature trees existing on the site. There are also numerous small homes and their corresponding garden spaces along with the animals that find refuge and food there. So how does a school with a sustainable consciousness co-exist with the fact that nature will be impacted for our school’s expansion? 
To address that, we have several simultaneous conversations going on that will, hopefully soon, become reality. A survey of the new campus space has identified seven frangipani trees that will be removed, maintained and then replanted onto the new campus. Mr. David Perrau, the Director of Project Operations, indicates that 14 trees will be re-purposed on our new campus by turning them into sculptures and or utilitarian elements (e.g. tables). This use of place-based resources will be augmented by the use of bricks of present homes that can be utilized to highlight aesthetic appeal of the new campus and reduce waste. Beyond that we are currently in conversations with the Global Environment Centre, a reputable NGO, to create an “adopt an acre” type program that will replant a substantial number of trees over a five-year period in an area of high ecological importance. ISKL has participated in tree plantings at The Raja Musa Peat Forest over the years but the partnership currently in process would be larger in scope. It will take a while for our planting to reach the carbon sink capacity of the mature trees on the campus, but planting that many trees at the Raja Musa Peat Forest would allow for an expansion of land that has major ecological benefit, from acting as a water sink for KL and providing a home for many species or animals and plants. 
Once our new campus opens the ISKL community will, no doubt, feel its pulse and recognize the sustainable nature of its design and function. It will serve as an example of the interaction of building space and learning experiences and will feature things such as solar energy, recycling, composting, reuse of water, cooling slabs, passive light maximization and green spaces for study, observation and appreciation. We envision a harmony of building, learning and sustainable design. We expect students to partake in behaviors that, supported by design, will limit the impact on the ecology of the space while simultaneously forming an excellent resource for integrated study. But we will also have a new school “forest” where students can study how it grows, how it works and an example of how schools can change the world. With good planning - which has characterised everything about our new campus - the relationship between the history of our school and the regeneration of natural ecosystems could be the perfect fit. And who knows? Hopefully, with the passage of time, those trees (and any trees planted after that) will grow large enough to be of greater carbon benefit than even the beautiful space we will soon call home.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Two New Clubs Go "Live"

It's always great to see students engaging with their community. It also wonderful to see them taking initiatives to involve in making their world a better place. For the past few months we've had two very different groups coming together, one from HS and one from ES. 

At the HS this week marked the initial building of new garden beds which were placed in the nursery behind the art building. The beds have not been entirely placed yet, as schedules so often get in the way of finishing projects on time, but they will be by next week. The HS Garden Club, advised by Mr. McCutcheon will be the "owner" of this space and will take care of it, ensure that plants that are grown are utilized, and also create a small compost area to ensure good quality soil. 

This week was also "go time" for the new Children Helping Children after school activity at Melawati. Around 16 ISKL students, advised by Ms. Varney and Ms. Manglesdorf, have signed up for what appears to be an excellent connection with the Fugee School (comprised largely of Somali refugees). This activities willl meet with the Fugee School children once every other week (with their first face-to-face interactions having taken place this past Tuesday). The alternate weeks the ISKL students will spend time planning for the subsequent meeting with their new friends. 

Both these activities are indicative of the willingness of our students to engage with their community. In doing so they learn from and learn with their respective points of interaction. Global citizen building, one interaction at a time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

MS Commits to Action

Last Friday, February 5 our grade 7 global issues and MS Student Council students were busy tackling the world's problems in a practical solution-oriented way. In what we hope is just the first of many Transforming Our World conferences, close to 130 students from ISKL and MKIS addressing the UN Global Goals for sustainable development.  The end result was a series of action plans (referred to as "Commitments to Action") presented at the end of what felt like a very short day (time does fly when you're engaged)! 

What was perhaps particularly impressive about this conference was that, from start to finish, it was a student-driven conference. Of course, teachers were there to guide and support, but the conversations, research, deliberations, learning activities and presentations were all entirely the work of our students. 

Much of the feedback from both student participants and adult observers pointed to an exceptional amount of focus, hard work, collaboration and solution-oriented conversations. It spoke of meaningful conversations, concern for the world and realistic empowerment. 

The day was incredibly well organized and students were able to develop skills in research, using technology, critical thinking, communication and public speaking. The final outcomes - the presentation of Commitments to Action (which can be found here) were particularly impressive, ranging form community plans to address waste to programs to ensure opportunities for girls, education programs for island populations and many more. 

Such powerful learning experiences offer a window into the development of "responsible global citizens".  As an observer of such opportunities for authentic learning through inquiry and combining experiential, cognitive, emotional and social growth with a purpose one cannot help but feel that unwavering sense of pride in children becoming global citizens literally as they speak.