IB for All: Inspiring Service at #DFHSIB20

The IB mission of developing citizens who are compelled to “think globally and act locally” has served as the fabric of DFHS for the twenty years that we have been authorized as an IB World School. As the IB celebrated its 50th anniversary and shared many examples of service learning from around the world via the commemorative hashtag #GenerationIB, our school celebrated its 20th anniversary by focusing on how service learning has further promoted our mission of “IB for All” at #DFHSIB20.

Our students have always engaged in community service that has made a positive difference in our local community. It is well documented on our school Facebook page, Twitter, and of course this blog. A quick scroll on our Facebook page will provide many examples, including our recent Thanksgiving luncheon for senior citizens as well as volunteer efforts at our elementary school and other local organizations. This year, our focus has shifted to service learning and, more specifically, how to best leverage what is already a robust IB MYP/DP curriculum to inspire students to go out and make a difference in our local community.

I wrote a piece earlier this year on service learning at DFHS and noted the importance of using our curriculum to “inspire service” among our students. Recently, our ninth and tenth grade English classes took the lead on these efforts by engaging in true service learning that now serves as a model for future work that we are planning as part of #GenerationIB and #DFHSIB20. Our teachers share their stories below:

Grade 9: Oedipus Rex (@CastellanoD1)

As high school English teachers, we are often discussing the motivations of the characters who we study in literature. Our students typically demonstrate empathy and sensitivity towards characters who struggle. This year, we decided to extend that empathy and sensitivity towards the Dobbs Ferry community.

We wanted the students to be involved with this service activity from start to finish, so we discussed our ideas with them from the very beginning. In addition, we wanted the process to organically connect to our curriculum, without feeling forced. Many themes found in literature document those who live in poverty or those who overcome adversity. Our goal was to tap into those themes while giving the students a tangible service opportunity that would allow them to give back to the community.

In English 9, our students read Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and as a class, we discussed the importance of working collaboratively to serve the community. In Oedipus Rex, the Chorus works collaboratively as a community to help the people of Thebes who are struggling with a destructive plague that is ravaging the city, and its people. I contacted Molly Rodriguez, at the Dobbs Ferry Food Pantry, to discuss how we, as a school, could work with their organization to serve the community. Molly was excited and eager to work collectively with us to make our vision a reality. She was most delighted to learn that we were committed to teaching the students about helping others in the community. With Molly’s help, we organized a list of food, and household items that were in high demand by those in need in the Dobbs Ferry community. In my classroom, Laura Cosgrove (@llcgrove), my co-teacher and I, set up three donations bins (one for each of my 9th grade classes) and over a month long span, we encouraged students to donate what they were able to contribute. We were overwhelmed by the thoughtfulness and generosity of the students, and their families.

The week before the holiday break, each one of our 9th grade classes walked from the school to the Dobbs Ferry Food Pantry, located within the South Presbyterian Church, with our donation items. The students were proud of their contributions and passionate about giving back.Upon entering the food pantry, we were welcomed by the volunteers, who gave us a tour and graciously accepted the donation items. The students learned about the number of people who benefit from the Dobbs Ferry Food Pantry and its many services. We left feeling uplifted by our service to the community, especially during the holiday season. We decided that we will be participating in another collection during the springtime.

Grade 10: Black Boy (@Mrs_Fahy)

While our 10th graders were reading Richard Wright’s memoir Black Boy, which chronicles his experiences growing up in a time of extreme poverty, hunger and racism in the Deep South, we discussed Richard’s hunger regularly in class. As Thanksgiving approached, the students came up with the idea that they would like to sponsor a Thanksgiving dinner for a local family in need. Other than selecting the recipients of the baskets, which was done anonymously through the guidance department, the students had ownership over the entire project from start to finish. We gave time in class for students to work in groups and collaboratively brainstorm items that the families may need. Unexpected contributions such as printing out word searches and coloring pages for children – things that don’t cost anything – helped ensure that all students could get involved.  From there, individual students brought in items from home, donated money, made signs and printed out the themed crossword puzzles, word searches and coloring pages. Our project culminated with a field trip to our local Stop & Shop to shop for the remaining items together as a class. As one student reflected: “I enjoyed working with my classmates to achieve a common goal. Everyone was focused on achieving a common goal to create a good experience for the family.”

The baskets looked wonderful were full of food and fun Thanksgiving treats. Both Ms. Cosgrove (@llcgrove) and I were very proud of the students’ efforts. A few days later, we asked students to write a reflection on the project and their experiences. One student said that “giving to a family in need made me feel like a really good person” and that the project we did together in class “brought everyone together and made people realize how lucky they are to be able to put food on the table and to spend time with family when others do not get the chance to do so.” Another student reflected that “the experience overall made me so happy” and that assignments such as these help us to “understand how our lives are very privileged compared to the lives of others.” Keeping these reflections in mind, we hope to incorporate and encourage more authentic Service Learning activities into future lessons.

Next Steps

Prior to winter break, our teachers met in grade level teams to brainstorm potential opportunities for service learning within our existing IB MYP/DP curriculum. Our grade level teams will reconvene next week to further develop those ideas while thinking about longer term interdisciplinary efforts that are aligned to the IB and our goals around service learning. The teachers at DFHS are a dynamic group of professionals who continue to push the instructional agenda at our school. It is through their effort, along with a school community that fully supports “IB for All,” that we find ourselves in the fortunate place of being able to focus our attention on an area such as service learning. The Dobbs Ferry “IB for All” story is one that continues to unfold, and service learning is simply a next step in our journey as we continue to develop compassionate and empathetic graduates who are prepared to make a positive difference in the world.


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