Service learning at ISZL

Stuart Byfield & Elizabeth Jewitt

ISZL’s Middle School Principal, Stuart Byfield, and Grade 8 teacher Elizabeth Jewitt describe this vital component of ISZL’s curriculum. 

Students cleaning garden area

ISZL’s Middle School Principal, Stuart Byfield, and Grade 8 teacher Elizabeth Jewitt describe this vital component of ISZL’s curriculum. 

‘Educating the mind without educating the heart is like no education at all’. These words, attributed to Aristotle, have remained central to our Middle School service learning mission for many years. Service learning at ISZL encourages students to focus on how they would like to make a difference to their school and community, and facilitates their learning as they organise their projects.

Involvement in service action promotes a compassionate mindset, social responsibility, and global awareness, and also provides a powerful educational tool through which passionate educators can nurture the skills of analytical thinking, complex problem solving, creativity, leadership and social influence; the skills widely regarded as crucial in driving personal success in the third decade of the 21st century. With this in mind, our service learning programme assumes a key position in education at ISZL.

Service Learning has long been a part of the ISZL Middle School programme from the division's first beginnings. Service as Action is a foundational element of the Middle Years Programme (MYP); validation of the service component that was already a well-established part of Middle School life.

Two students in front of christmas shoe box donations

This year saw our Middle School teachers spending time together at the beginning of the year to develop a shared understanding of the importance and purpose behind our Service programme and to look at ways in which we could encourage greater student engagement and agency within this aspect of school life. The vision led us to work with our early teens to identify new opportunities and follow where students' passions and interests lie. The result is a sense that many more of our students are actively taking responsibility to drive action, and are energised by their voice in the process and their power to bring about meaningful change. On a Wednesday afternoon through open classroom doors it is a pleasure to witness the energy and enthusiasm of the students and teachers as they collaborate to realise their visions.

What does that look like within our community?

Work with the refugee and asylum-seeking community of the Zug region has become even more relevant this year, and has challenged our students' emotional resilience as they have tried to come to terms with the difficulties in Eastern Europe. Our very active student council, Student Voice, harnessed the baking skills of the staff and raised CHF 1300  for the Red Cross efforts. Additionally, our Global Citizens group quickly organised a collection of essential items to send directly to Ukraine, and also to the Swiss charity Caritas for refugees newly arrived in Switzerland. In Middle School we have daily conversations with students who are looking for ways to offer their support to Ukraine.

Our long-standing work with our three ISZL ‘Homes and Schools Overseas’ charities continues to take a central role in our programme, with many students eager to support our partnership with the Nawa Asha Griha school in Nepal, the charity Kids of Africa, which works in Uganda, and The Cedar Foundation in Bulgaria.

The students working to support Kids of Africa recently launched their ‘Change for Children’ project throughout Primary School. They spent many hours of their personal time unravelling the complex issues facing Uganda, and creating videos to send to the younger students, before sharing the story and the motives behind the collection with Primary School students. It obviously worked, with one Grade 5 teacher telling us, “my class has really been inspired by this charity - they are really pumped about this!”

Another project is the Design Cafe. A group of motivated Grade 8 students has created innovative solutions to practical problems around the school. These included repairing broken headphones, and using the school laser-cutter to create boxes for the nurses to use for milk teeth that come out at school

We have the new Middle School ‘Zine spreading the word about service learning within the school. Environmental action groups are thriving, focusing on awareness campaigns and sustainability within school. The new and eager clothes up-cycling group is busy highlighting ethical fashion trends.The multi-talented Community Connections group is busy forming new links with various organisations within the Zug region, recently having spent the afternoon entertaining the residents of a local home for the elderly.

The new Music in Action group encourages students to create and lead projects. Successes include writing songs to raise awareness of specific issues with the aim of performing to their community, working with sound and recording equipment to facilitate performances, and creating original songs to showcase instruments to Early Years students.

There are the individual stories too, with students driving change and action based on what matters to them.  One great example is of Grade 6 student, Chloé T, who, impacted by the October flooding in Ville de Breil sur Roya in France, organised a sale to raise funds.  We recently received a letter from the mayor, thanking both Chloé and the school for the thoughtfulness and the action. The money has been given to the Youth Council of the village to make a difference to support reconstruction with focus on what matters to teenagers in the area.

Students running a bakesale

In the words of our students:

"Being able to help children learn was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had!"

"In the process of starting a new service learning group, I have learned new skills. The experience has been interesting with lots of problem solving and laughs."

“From delivering holiday gifts to children in need to raising money for reforestation, service learning has always provided an enriching and fulfilling learning experience for me. The act of working hard to help others always leaves me in a brighter mood. I can't remember a time during service learning this year when I didn't want to jump at a project simply for the pure pleasure of working on it.”

Service learning is at the heart of what ISZL does: making the world, or our corner of it, a better, kinder place.

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