Gr. 8 students facilitate art classes for students from the Hijirizaka Special Needs School.
Adopted after a year-long collaborative thinking process that involved administrators and teachers from all school levels, service-learning team coaches, parents, and of course students, our new service learning philosophy approaches service as “an opportunity for students to grow as a learner and as a person by addressing real-life issues in their school, local, or global community. Following a cycle of research, planning, action and reflection, service learners extend their knowledge, skills, and dispositions by applying them beyond the classroom and connecting with others. Through service, students develop awareness, empathy, and agency while making a positive difference in the world.”
Reaffirming, clarifying, and enhancing our commitment to service as a way of learning and a way of living, this philosophy is perfectly illustrated by the new and renewed opportunities for social action provided to our middle school students. Recently, our Grade 8 students were able to reconnect with our longtime partner, Hijirizaka Special Needs School. Following a Literature unit on neurodiversity, they visited Hijirizaka in tutor groups and, having learned more about its community, created appropriate activities to engage with its students on our campus. While Hijirizaka’s teachers and students expressed their gratitude for the inclusive social interaction, this was also a chance for our students to address stigmas and enrich their understanding of “special needs”, for instance by realizing their peers’ keen interest in and ability for artistic expression.
In Grade 7, it is a new partnership with Shine On! Kids, an organization serving children with cancer and other long-term illnesses in Japan, that empowered our students to take up personal challenges, develop good disposition inspired by the young patients’ stories, and raise money to support the training of therapy dogs and Shine On! Kids’ many other programs. Their next step in this ambitious project will be to create games and other avenues for direct interaction with the Shine On! kids.
Beyond their tutor group projects and subjects where service learning is embedded in the curriculum, such as the flagship “Changemakers” Grade 6 unit, Middle School students have additional opportunities to engage in service learning through our student-led teams, which have been very active and impactful this year. Thanks to its crafts sales, #UkraineNoWar has thus raised enough donations to buy uniforms for a Ukrainian teenager who found refuge in Yokohama with her family, allowing her to attend school and school-related functions. Another team, Roots and Shoots, has instituted a new norm and collective practice at school: recycling Tetra Paks in the cafeteria. Both teams, it should be noted, were created just last year by passionate students who took the initiative following our leadership retreat.
Our #UkraineNoWar Service Team raised enough funds to purchase a public school uniform for a Ukrainian girl now living in Yokohama.
Our Roots and Shoots Service Team has increased the number of recycling bins on the school campus for Tetra Paks.
Thinking that these are only examples of the many ways our students learn through service is humbling. They also illustrate perfectly how service at YIS is transformative and allows students to develop crucial understandings, skills, and qualities, such as empathy, cooperation, communication, and critical thinking. If this is the goal of education, then service, and Middle School, are indeed at the heart of it all.
by Jérémie Rostan, DP Psychology Teacher and All-School Service Learning Coach