(P) Service learning at the American International School of Bucharest

The American International School of Bucharest engages learners in a rigorous and balanced international education, prepares them to realize their full potential and inspires them to be successful and responsible global citizens.  Service Learning is an extremely important part of the educational process and comes to complete the successful profile the school strives to create for its students.

What is Service Learning?

“Picture this: a canned food drive has been initiated by some teachers because they learned that the local soup kitchen were in desperate need of food. Students were asked to donate as many canned foods as possible and as an incentive and there was going to be a pizza party for the class that donated the most cans of food. The students were excited about the competition and the soup kitchen was very pleased with the donations they received. […]

Now picture this alternative scenario…. a group of middle school students are researching and reading about what it means to be hungry and homeless in Bucharest. The students find out what the homeless situation is in Bucharest and then interview some of the homeless people to find out their stories. The students decide to fast for a day or more to empathize with the homeless and better understand what it feels like to be hungry. They write to the appropriate government officials to try and get support and help start a food drive as part of their cause to support the homeless. One student suggests that a group of them meet once a week and make sandwiches and fruit that could be wrapped and delivered every Saturday to a local homeless shelter. The idea takes off and many students volunteer their Saturdays to this cause.  More and more ideas spring from various student groups to help out.

This second scenario is an example of a Service Learning project because it adds the element of Learning and Reflection for students. The process and the learning opportunities become the focus. Students are given a voice in deciding what to do, resulting in more participation and ‘buy in’ to what they are doing. “(Janice Myles, Early Childhood and Elementary School Service Learning Coordinator, AISB)

A visit to Budesti

In their recent unit of study on Water, the AISB 3rd graders learned the importance of water as an essential resource and should be a basic human right for all!   The unit began with a fieldtrip to the town of Budesti where students had the opportunity to visit a local school, followed by a visit to some of the homes in this town. This is where AISB students were able to see how hard it can be to obtain water (as the shortage was strongly felt in this area) and to visit the Secondary School Gheorghe Manu Budesti, consisting of students from grades 1 to 8, with over half of the students belonging to the Rroma community. The AISB group of visiting students and adults were certainly not prepared for the wonderful and warm welcome they received! They were greeted with the Romanian custom of offering baked bread and salt before entering.

The experience was a wonderful one: students broke into smaller groups and had the opportunity to visit classrooms and interact with the local students. The local students prepared and sang songs they also enjoyed the activities that AISB students planned and shared with them.   It was a meaningful and very humbling experience for the AISB students and staff.  Students of Budesti were very appreciative of the donation of playground equipment that AISB students presented to them, in addition to a donation of 8 laptops computers.

What does Service Learning look like in higher grades?

Service and Service Learning are at the core of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. In the Middle Years Program (MYP), Service Learning, also called Service Action (learning by doing and experiencing) is a key component in the program. “It is a shared value of all IB programs and also of the education programs at AISB. It teaches students an awareness of the community around them, both within school, within Bucharest and the whole world.  It is through these programs that students are empowered to act and make a positive difference to the lives of others and to the environment. ” (Margritha Hoffman, Secondary School Service Learning Coordinator, AISB)

What are some of the projects Secondary School Students are involved in as part of their Service Learning efforts?

In the Secondary School, students are involved in a lot of programs that range from environmental to educational ones.  AISB students support PAVEL, they visit kids suffering from cancer, provide school equipment to them, offer Christmas gifts and invite them over for visits to AISB for a day of fun and games.  KIVA is a microfinance organization that lends small sums of money to people in lesser developed countries, to support entrepreneurs, farmers that need to buy animals, and others. These small amounts of money (min. 25 US$) are paid back over a period of time, after which our students can lent it to somebody else again.

AISB students have been involved in Hope for Health and Fundatia Inocenti for many years and still weekly visit the hospitals, to play with the kids and support their programs. They celebrate Christmas, Easter and other special days with them and raise funds for specific things needed (medicines for a boy, nappies, etc.).  Students have had very successful warm clothes rallies during the past few years for the benefit of those that needed them with the help of the Romanian Red Cross.

During the last school year, the Service Learning group working with Hospice – Casa Speranţei won the Central and Eastern European Schools Association Service Learning Award. This was a fantastic recognition of the students work with this hospice. The service group was a student initiative, has been run by students for the past 3 years and has had learning benefits for both our students and the kids they work with. Once a month, terminally ill kids and their families visit AISB for games, celebrations, some crafts or sports and good food! The award consisted of a plaque to be displayed at AISB and US$1000 that will be used to set up a toy library at the new Hospice center in Bucharest, together with more funds raised by AISB through a talent show they organized.

“The Service Learning program at AISB is part of what makes this a good school. The fact that students learn through Service, that they will try to make a difference in others’ lives, that alumni come back to tell me that they continued service once they went to university, all that is what makes me, as a coordinator, so happy with the program.” (Margritha Hoffman, Secondary School Service Learning Coordinator, AISB)

“Service Learning is about encouraging children to become lifelong learners and demonstrate global citizenship while helping them to acquire the necessary skills to survive successfully in tomorrow’s world. Service Learning is a paradigm shift in the way we learn, teach and prepare our children for the 21st century. “(Janice Myles, Early Childhood and Elementary School Service Learning Coordinator, AISB)

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