Voices (ISL Stories)

Empowering Global Citizens: Service Learning at ISL

Service Learning is an educational approach that intertwines community service with academic learning and personal development. It's more than just classroom instruction; it's about engaging students in real-world experiences to address real community needs while enhancing their understanding of course content and nurturing civic responsibility.

Today, we're delving into this concept with our Upper School Service Learning Coordinator, Fabien Moussay, and CAS Coordinator, Ailbhe O’Flaherty. They'll provide insights into how ISL embraces service learning as a fundamental aspect of education, sharing initiatives, projects, and experiences that empower students to make meaningful contributions to their communities while honing essential skills and values.

Before we start discussing Service Learning, could you both please introduce yourselves and share a bit about your roles at ISL?

Fabien: I'm the Service Learning Coordinator for the Upper School, and that goes from grade 6 to 12.  In grades 6 to 8, it's called Changemakers Program. Grades 9 and 10 students have Service Learning Program where they engage in projects and initiatives, some student-designed. In grades 11 and 12, it's part of the CAS program, and that’s where Ailbhe comes in.

Ailbhe: As the CAS coordinator for the past three years, I oversee the program for IB diploma students. CAS stands for Creativity, Activity, Service, and the Service strand of CAS follows a Service Learning Model. CAS is an integral part of the IB core, alongside the extended essay and Theory of Knowledge. I support students in organizing their CAS activities through CASCADE classes, advisory sessions, and interviews. These interviews help us understand students' goals and interests to guide them throughout the diploma program.

Can you explain what Service Learning is and why it’s important in education?

Fabien: Service learning, simply put, aims to cultivate global citizenship by empowering students with the skills to make a positive impact in their community.

Ailbhe: Service learning is about becoming a contributor and learning from that experience. As students mature, particularly in the IB program, we expect them to grasp issues and plan appropriate responses, aligning their service with relevant issues whenever feasible.

How does Service Learning differ from the traditional community services or volunteering?

Fabien: In Service Learning, there's a focus on informed action. Students research genuine community needs and consider the impact of their actions. They're forced to carefully weigh their options and measure consequences. Moreover, there's an expectation of follow-up and sustainability in projects, making them transformative.

Ailbhe: In service learning, quality engagement surpasses mere time spent. Unlike community service hours, the focus is on meaningful involvement that may not always be quantifiable but leaves a visible impact on the community and fosters student learning.

How do Service Learning projects align with the curriculum and the vision of ISL?

Fabien: I think that you see that in the school's mission statement. When you look at ISL’s mission statement, it's about achieving what matters in the world. When you look at Service Learning, being inspired, resilient or passionate, it doesn't happen in a vacuum. They are internal qualities but there also that positive contribution to the community.

What are the key components of a successful Learning Project?

Fabien: Enjoyment is crucial for students to truly benefit from their involvement. If it feels like a chore, the impact and learning diminish. Equally important is the opportunity for learning; without it, an activity lacks the essence of Service Learning.

Ailbhe: Student-initiated projects often stand out for their impact and interest. While guidance is necessary, student agency drives successful initiatives. Whether inspired by personal connections or classroom learning, students are motivated to see their ideas through, albeit with some guidance.

Fabien: Additionally, fostering empathy - as opposed to sympathy for the issues - through shared experiences is vital in Service Learning. It's not just about giving; it's about creating a reciprocal exchange between students and the community recipients, ensuring meaningful engagement for all involved.

How are the Service Learning projects selected? Can you explain the process?

Ailbhe: Projects are chosen based on their potential for sustained involvement and student initiative. Students are encouraged to propose ideas, which are evaluated for suitability and feasibility. We prioritize purposeful engagement that benefits both the students and the community. Collaboration, problem-solving, and reflection are key aspects considered. Leadership roles are handed over to students to ensure project sustainability and academic integration. We also promote student-led initiatives and provide support through capacity-building and project management coaching.

Fabien: Partnerships with community organizations create project opportunities, often led by students. Successful projects foster ongoing reflection and application of academic knowledge. We strive for a balance between existing and student-led projects, ensuring meaningful engagement and room for new initiatives. Students are encouraged to propose and develop their own ideas, fostering creativity and leadership.

When students come to you, what support and resources are available to them?

Fabien: Human resources are the primary support available, including our office as coaches and various staff members within the school community who readily assist with projects. Financially, students can access the Innovation Grant for project funding. We also connect students with external resources and organizations. Our campus offers many opportunities as well, particularly in environmental projects like gardening, composting, and beekeeping, providing students with ample freedom to explore and innovate. Luxembourg's supportive local organizations and potential parent partnerships further enrich resources.

Ailbhe: In the first instance support is in the form of individual or small group consultations for me to learn more about their ideas and help them articulate a plan and to identify resources. The school encourages student initiatives, supporting them in launching clubs and groups validated as beyond-the-classroom activities. We share ongoing opportunities, updates on new community partnerships, and resources for project planning via internal platforms such as ManageBac, Schoology or Advisory notifications. Student leadership is fostered, with teachers providing individualized support and supervision for projects.

Can you give some examples of any partnerships or collaborations ISL has formed with local organizations for Service Learning projects?

Fabien: We partner with Médecins Sans Frontières to organize mapathons. Additionally, we collaborate with the Jewish Consistoire for cemetery renovation in Limpertsberg. The Energy Vision Group audits our resource use, while Relais pour la Vie and Thinkpink raise cancer awareness and funds.

Ailbhe: Our ongoing initiatives include basketball sessions with Zesummen Aktiv (ZAK!), wildlife conservation training at the Dudelange Wildlife Center, and gender equality advocacy with Zonta. We also support Unicef and AMA (Asociación Manos Abiertas) through student-led initiatives.

Can you share a project that deeply impacted you and is a particular success story?

 Fabien: One project that deeply impacted me is the Beekeeping Initiative. I knew nothing about beekeeping before joining the school, but witnessing students lead the project and seeing their expertise inspired me to get involved. Grade five students investigating biodiversity reached out to the beekeepers, leading to successful presentations that encouraged more students to join. This personal journey led me to become a beekeeper myself.

Ailbhe: My personal connection lies with the Wildlife Center. When I became CAS coordinator, I explored the opportunity further, arranging information sessions and site visits. I've learned alongside students about biodiversity challenges in Luxembourg and witnessed their commitment to meaningful work. Despite the challenges, seeing the center grow and expand its facilities has been gratifying. Moreover, the collaboration with the Lower School demonstrates the project's impact across the school community. The volunteer coordinator team at the Centre has been very generous in their collaboration and in particular in the training the training they provide our students.

When considering all these projects, what are the main benefits for the students, and how do you incorporate reflection or evaluation into the process?

Fabien: Reflection is at the core of these projects, fostering personal growth and vital skills for the future. Students often undergo a change in perspective and unknowingly develop communication skills through impactful experiences like embassy speeches. Even after graduation, students retain ownership of these projects, demonstrating their lasting impact. 

Ailbhe: As students near the end of their CAS journey in grade 12, we facilitate a final interview where they reflect on their holistic experiences, considering personal growth, unexpected skill acquisition, and readiness for university or the workplace. It's a rewarding experience witnessing students' self-realizations and empathy development throughout the process. Ultimately, CAS and Service Learning cultivate well-rounded individuals who continue to contribute meaningfully to their communities.

Fabien: One student expressed a profound realization, likening CAS and service learning to wellbeing. It's about becoming a global citizen, asking the right questions, and considering the consequences of one's actions. Our goal is for students to internalize these principles beyond school, embodying them as they navigate life.

Ailbhe: Indeed, it's a holistic approach aimed at helping students find their passions and balance in life. It's not merely about ticking boxes but about discovering meaningful paths tailored to each individual's interests and growth.

What obstacles do you face in guiding students for these projects, and what challenges do students themselves encounter?

Fabien: Time is the primary challenge for both us and the students. Our limited meeting times during breaks or lunch add pressure, compounded by students' academic demands. Many struggle to prioritize and manage their time effectively, which is understandably challenging.

Ailbhe: Absolutely, time is a significant challenge, compounded by lingering misconceptions about Service Learning. Shifting from a model focused on community service hours to one emphasizing learning and commitment requires cultural adaptation throughout the school community.

Fabien: Indeed, fostering a culture of initiative and collaboration is paramount. It's about empowering students to lead, not just using them as helpers when needed. This shift in mindset is essential for embracing the true essence of Service Learning.

How can parents and the wider community contribute more to these projects?

Fabien: Parents and community members with relevant skills and connections can play a vital role. Those with expertise can offer mentorship and lead workshops to empower students in managing their projects effectively. By bringing real-world experiences into the school, they enrich our students' learning opportunities. 

Ailbhe: Engaging in conversations at home about service and encouraging students to explore their interests in this area can also make a significant impact. Parents can foster a culture of service by discussing the importance of contributing to the community and supporting their children's involvement in meaningful projects. 

Fabien: Additionally, parents' input can lead to valuable project ideas and connections. For instance, initiatives like the heritage project and collaboration with organizations like MSF originated from parent suggestions. 

As we conclude our conversation with Fabien and Ailbhe, we're reminded of the transformative power of Service Learning at ISL.

Thank you, Fabien and Ailbhe, for your invaluable insights and commitment to shaping compassionate global citizens.