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Nurturing Voice Through Facilitating Choice
By Victoria Wasner, Experiential Learning Coordinator and German Teacher

A treasured aspect of our approach to Service Learning at the High School is that students are encouraged to follow their own passions and take ‘principled action’, as the Middle Years Programme would call it. In the wake of the Youth Forum Switzerland 2019, there is also a buzz about the concept of 'student voice', so the intention of this article is to highlight Service Learning as an area where both of these concepts are translated into practice. It’s good to talk about concepts, but it’s even better to see what they look like.

The Environmental Service Learning Group

Environmental action

Erin A. and Emma O. are two Grade 9 students who came to the High School keen to carry on their interest in all things environmental. In response to a call for student passions at the start of the year, the girls founded the environmental service group the ‘Lorax’ and have been leading their peers once every two weeks in planning for and carrying out environmental initiatives. They introduce themselves to you here:

'We are the environments service group who are spreading awareness about climate change, while also working towards making the whole school more environmentally friendly, by reducing plastic and our carbon footprint. For example, we are trying to get the cafeteria to serve less meat during the week, without making the menu vegetarian, just serving alternative meals that do not include meat. We are also working on informing the youth about the problems we are facing towards climate change and global warming, by going to the other campus to give talks about what they can do to help. We are introducing simple solutions that the primary students could do at home to encourage them to take action when they are older. We have just set up a website and Instagram where we can raise awareness internationally, more posts will be coming soon.'

Being the one

Leoni S. and Luise S. in Grade 10 are two girls who also exemplify what it looks like to act and exercise their voice. They are student leaders of the service group ‘Because We Carry’ and they are pioneers in the High School for a student-initiated and student-led Personal Development Week (PDW). Leoni and Luise present their passion and reasons to you:

'Our project inspiration started in 9th Grade, during one of Mr Koch’s passionate and interesting Humanities lessons. We watched the Oscar-nominated documentary/short film '4.1 Miles'. It showed how a coast guard captain from Lesbos, Greece struggles to save thousands of refugees who arrive near the coast. After class finished we walked out of the room and something had changed. We talked about the movie and realised, that many people have watched these catastrophes happen on TV or in a movie and yet decide to do nothing. We wanted to change that. We didn't want this lesson and movie to be just another after which you forget most of it after a week. We aspired to take action. Since Mr. Koch and what he had taught us had inspired us to take action, to create a project to help these refugees, we hoped to gain his support and to help us achieve our dream.

A year later, we had finished our plan: to make service learning and PDW more meaningful by combining them. We wanted to establish a whole new PDW to a refugee camp in Lesbos in Greece (one of the islands most affected by the refugee crisis in Europe). After we had completed all our planning we were only missing the last yet one of the major parts of our service group; a partner organisation. After weeks of contacting different organisations, we found ourselves struggling to find an organisation which fit our needs and was willing to work with a group of young people. A few days before the deadline, we were astonished by the fact to have discovered that Mrs Bailey, one of ISZL's College Counsellors, had actually planned a similar project and trip and we were thrilled to hear that she already had been in contact with a Dutch organisation called ‘Because We Carry’. We realised that we finally would be able to take the next steps towards our own service group - and we did.

Today our group has 17 members and together we continuously plan and put into action various non-bakesale-like fundraising events to collect money for the refugees in Lesbos. In the future, we will also be collecting basic needs such as toys and school supplies in order for them to be taken to Lesbos to the camp and benefit the people in need. Some additional great news is that after weeks of planning and organising, our PDW to Lesbos in Greece was approved so next September there will be a small yet strong-willed group travelling to Lesbos to provide service to the camp Kara Tepe in Mytilini.

The question we ask ourselves repeatedly is: “Why us? Why do we get to live this privileged and, compared to the whole world, rich life?”. It is nothing but luck to be born into a poorer or richer family. Therefore we believe that we are nearly obligated to help these people because it also could be oneself seeking refuge in one of the camps.'

What we can take from this is that by creating learning spaces that allow for student choice, that inspire students to take risks, and that support student passions, we can create opportunities for genuine, heartfelt, authentic action. If we facilitate the space and listen to the voices, they have a much better chance of being heard.

  • High School
  • Personal Development Weeks
  • Service Learning

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