By ALEX DAILEY
Alex Dailey currently teaches secondary ESOL and coordinates CAS (Creativity, Action and Service) and service learning at the Rabat American School in Morocco. In the past, she’s taught in the Oregon public schools and at the Lincoln School in Kathmandu, Nepal. As a firm believer in the balanced life-style espoused by CAS, she enjoys writing, yoga, hiking, and volunteering at the local children’s hospital.
Guided by an accreditation goal of 100% student participation in community service, secondary teachers and administrators at Rabat American School (RAS) in Morocco have worked hard to cultivate a variety of service opportunities in recent years. Several projects are now deeply embedded in our community: National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) organizes an annual swim camp for a local orphanage, a team of eighth to twelfth grade students make daily visits to the local children’s hospital, National Honor Society (NHS) sponsors an annual rummage sale, and a dedicated group of Arabic speakers offers weekly tutoring to a group of underprivileged girls. Students also participate in numerous on-campus service activities including recycling, student government, and peer tutoring.
As we approached our goal of full student participation, however, it became evident that our program suffered from two distinct problems: fragmentation and fundraising. With the help of our new service-learning grant program for students, we are gradually ameliorating these two issues to create a more meaningful and coherent service program.
The Problem: Growth without Guidance
Fragmentation: Community members’ enthusiasm for service had led to an ever-expanding array of service opportunities; without the guidance of a unifying vision, however, this enthusiasm yielded a program somewhat lacking in focus and continuity. New initiatives popped up each year, sometimes only to whither when the motivating teacher or student moved along to other places or interests. The International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma’s CAS requirement (Creativity, Action, Service) to “plan and initiate” as well as National Honor Society and NJHS independent projects further fragmented our program. Thus, while the school’s array of service projects had expanded, the characteristics of a quality service project remained essentially unmonitored and undefined. As a result of this fragmentation, some projects were plagued by a lack of momentum and sustainability.
Fundraising as a Problem
Meanwhile, as our service efforts grew, so did the fundraising to support them. Bake sales, face-painting booths, and movie nights distracted students from their true service objective. With only a half-hour of clearly defined meeting time each week, service clubs battled both to raise essential funds and to implement meaningful projects. Moreover, the time and energy spent on fundraising brought a financial emphasis into our service program that diminished our true focus on fostering human interconnectedness.
Rationale and a Solution: Service Grants
To combat this fragmentation and the emphasis on fundraising, Rabat American School has converted a small community service allowance into a grant-fund for student-initiated service projects. As the community service coordinator, I worked with administration, the business office, and service club leaders — both students and teachers — to draft the process and criteria for initial implementation. Our goals for the program were three-fold: To replace fairly meaningless fundraising activities with the valuable experience of grant-writing. To create a process that was straightforward, efficient, and student-centered. To establish a means of evaluation that would reward and therefore inspire certain qualities, such as sustainability, academic integration and off-campus experience.
The Application and Evaluation Processes
To achieve these goals, we devised a two-step process: a brief written application and an oral defense, with both steps guided by a grant evaluation rubric. To begin the process, students- — either independently or as a small group — write up a grant proposal. This one-page form asks the student to identify the problem they are trying to solve, the solution that they propose, and the funds required. On the back of this summarizing sheet, students self-evaluate their proposal on our grant evaluation rubric. The categories on the rubric reward points for continuity, participation, and project outcome, as well as student growth (academic and socio-emotional). Thus, a student who wants to paint a mural on-campus independently will receive fewer points. By applying geometric concepts from math class, for example, more points are earned. Executing the painting with a group of RAS students adds still more points. Integrating the painting into on-going activities with children from a local orphanage will approach maximum points. Thus, the rubric guides students to create more meaningful, sustainable, integrated service learning projects.
After submitting their written application, the grant writers explain and defend their grant to the evaluation team. The evaluation team is composed of seven members — three adults and four students. The students were chosen one each from NHS, NJHS and our middle school and high school student councils. One middle school and one high school service club advisor as well as the secondary principal round out the team. For any given grant, two adults and three students serve as the evaluators. The principal votes on all proposals (as the community service allowance is under her discretion); middle school representatives evaluate high school projects and the high school students and teacher assess middle school proposals. In this way, personal bias is diminished and students gain an awareness of projects throughout the school.
The grant writers’ oral defense of their project before the grant evaluation team requires just ten minutes. Prior to the meeting, evaluation team members review each application. Each team of grant writers is then given the opportunity to explain their project and respond to the evaluation team’s questions. The oral defense is complete when each evaluator has sufficient information to evaluate the proposal on the service learning rubric. While writers’ self-assessment serves as a point of reference, it is the rubric-assessment by members of the evaluation team that determines the grant awards.
This year, I’m happy to report that our first round of service grants will be used to purchase t-shirts for the NJHS swim camp, provide snacks to serve during visits to a nearby orphanage, sponsor a barbecue for a local school, supply essential medicine for a hospital patient, and procure paint for a mural celebrating the school’s 50th anniversary. None of these projects received maximum points on our rubric, but each group made an effort to push their project towards the ideal. With the criteria of a quality service project now more clearly defined and reinforced with the honor and financial incentive of a grant award, these projects represent a shift towards a more coherent and meaningful service program. While I do miss the cupcakes from those bake sales, I believe we’ve made the right choice for our students by providing them the opportunity to apply their skills as planners, presenters and writers to initiate and pursue meaningful service activities.
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