So, this kid walks into a coffee shop and asks for a drink. A few minutes later, and after he's paid, he receives what he asked for and nestled cutting into his drink, peering out from the top of the glass is a plastic straw. Later in the same visit the experience is shared by others who have walked into the place. Which prompted our little friend to ask "why so many straws?"
Apparently that was the beginning of a service learning project developed by then-nine-year-old Milo Cress in Vermont. Since then Milo has done his research (did you know that in the US they use 500,000,000 straws a day?) and spread the word, starting with going back to that very same store and asking them - apparently with an angelic face - if they would mind not giving out straws unless requested and his placing table announcements educating his community about why straws aren't being handed out.
Cathryn Berger Kaye, who visited this past weekend to conduct a service learning workshops to about 30 participants, noted that little Milo was able to reduce straw use in his town by over 80%. One kid did that! More stories were shared too, the most notable of which is was called "In Our Village" and is the story of students in Africa writing a book about where they live. Similar books have now been made in a variety of places.
The weekend workshop concluded on Sunday afternoon and I found myself being filled with adrenaline and optimism and dreams. If it was up to me at that specific instant every teacher and kid at ISKL and beyond would start service learning immediately and never stop. In every class at every level we would give our students the opportunities to follow their own passions, answer their own questions, create their own solutions and make a change for the better now, here. The youth of the world would all become empowered and conscientious citizens and community, in any and all ways we define it, would be better off.
In a simulation we did I found myself chatting with a teacher from IS Beijing. We started with "environmental disasters", moved quickly to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, moved toward similar local concerns, determined that there must be some plan for dealing with possible catastrophic events here in Malaysia, identified where we would get the necessary information from, devised a plan to train a small cohort of HS students who would act as educators for their community, but would also be on standby to be deployed in a quick response team in support of environmental clean up in affected areas when time is of essence. The twists and turns of our conversations was astounding. The engagement was awesome! The wonderful thing is that any other combinations of individuals would have started in the same place, but ended up in a completely different direction.
I cannot say where ISKL's future lies in regard to service learning, but I am hopeful that more and more of our teachers will utilize this process in their classrooms. The students would love it, I am sure. I don't know what I'll be saying after that rush of the workshop fades, but I am sure that, in there somewhere, there will be the knowledge and motivation I need to support my colleagues in ensuring that our students are actively becoming socially responsible global citizens.
After the workshop was over, I revisited our school's vision statement. Developed a few years ago by students - long since graduated - I am convinced that it was written with service learning in mind: "learning is stimulated, curiosity is sparked, vision is cultivated and action is inspired". Wow.