IB for All: Service Learning at DFHS

The DFHS story of “IB for All” is well documented in this blog. Our school was the first public high school to be authorized as an IB Diploma Program (DP) school in 1998 (#DFHSIB20), and our shared belief in “IB for All” served as the driving force behind obtaining authorization to the IB Middle Years Program in 2016. We proudly share our story annually at the IB Global Conference by focusing on a specific aspect of how we accomplish “IB for All” in a small, diverse suburban public school district. In 2015, we presented in Chicago on how our 1:1 Chromebook program promoted equity and access to the IB DP, and in subsequent years we focused specifically on areas such as program development (Toronto, 2016), special education (Orlando, 2017), and the MYP Personal Project (San Diego, 2018). In 2019, our focus evolved to include service learning, and more specifically how we are working to further promote a “think globally act locally” mindset into all aspects of our school. This focus was especially timely during the pandemic, and while it in ways forced us to “rethink” the “how” of service it never shifted our belief in the “why.”

A belief in the importance of contributing beyond ourselves is at the core of the IB mission to create a “better and more peaceful world.” This level of service, however, means less when it comes as a result of a school requirement (“every student must complete 30 hours of service or else!”) or as a way to enhance a college resume. With this in mind, our focus has been on how we can inspire students to freely and voluntarily engage in meaningful service without it being a mandate or requirement. The trick here, of course, is for students to be so inspired by what happens inside of school that they want to make a difference outside of school. Not always an easy feat, even for an IB school.

When IB celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018, we proudly celebrated our 20th anniversary using the hashtag #DFHSIB21. As part of our celebration, we took on #GenerationIB as a rallying point for encouraging service and civic engagement in an effort to truly make a difference in our community. That work has continued through the pandemic and  into this school year as can be still found under the hashtag #DFHSIB21. Here are some of the steps that we take annually to maintain the momentum: 

Establishing a Clear Vision: I meet with our department leaders every August to set the course for the upcoming year prior to the arrival of our faculty. Part of what we discussed this year was the work that we have done with “IB for All” in relation to our continued focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), and next steps that we may take to continue to push our school forward. Service learning and the idea of “CAS for ALL” has long been something that we have talked about and this is the first year that we have all of our juniors fully involved in IB CAS activities. In addition, all of our sophomores engage in a service learning project upon completion of the IB MYP Personal Project. Early on, it was important that we came to consensus on the following definition of the term to share with the faculty: “Bringing awareness and empathy to global issues that exist and thinking about how we can tackle those issues in our local community.” In addition to providing a direction and vision for the school, the definition has moved service learning to a level of deeper understanding of the issues that exist in order to compel and inspire actual and tangible service.

Inspiring Service: There is perhaps nothing that makes me shake my head more than the idea of “completing” service as part of some type of requirement. Though it may come with the best of intentions, we too often see people completing service essentially because they are being forced to. Service needs to come from within. It is selfless by its very nature and the reward is intrinsic and personal. At DFHS, we have had early conversations about how to inspire such levels of selflessness so that students are compelled to seek opportunity to serve based on their own passion. These conversations are now ongoing inside of our classrooms within the context of our curriculum. This integrated approach to service within the curriculum aims to inspire action outside of the walls of our school.

#Generation IB: As part of 50 years of IB (1968-2018), students around the world from all four IB programs showcased their efforts to find solutions to some of the most pressing global issues. At DFHS, our IB MYP teachers and students took this on as a complement to the Year 5 MYP Personal Project. At the start of the year, MYP teacher @MsCairoHistory challenged her students with the following essential question: “What are some of the greatest challenges facing humanity, and what can be done to remedy them?” This question served as a focus for the course and is one that we are challenging teachers and students in all disciplines in all grade levels to consider. Since 2018, and throughout the pandemic, all teachers of all subjects helped our students to reflect upon how the respective content that they are teaching impacts the larger global world. In doing so, student thinking continues to be broadened beyond the walls of our school and the call to act and make a difference with tangible service comes from within.

Promoting Service:  A few years back we started a full campaign to truly imbed the IB Learner Profile into all aspects of our school. This included revamping our behavior expectations to include IB Learner Profile qualities, adjusting all aspects of teaching and learning based on the profile, and most significantly recognizing the members of our school community who demonstrate one or more of the respective qualities. In terms of service, we have taken a similar approach by embedding service learning into our curriculum and by promoting the great service initiatives that our students are leading throughout our community. Our IB DP CAS Coordinator, Sarah Grosso (@sarah_grosso2), shares a great deal of these initiatives on her Twitter page. Check it out! It’s important to note, however, that the point of doing this isn’t necessarily to provide an extrinsic reward in as much as it is to celebrate the work of others and to inspire thought and possible action in others.

We are looking forward to sharing our work in our upcoming IB MYP Evaluation visit in March! We are also excited to learn more about what is happening in other IB MYP schools so that we can be further  inspired to find new ways to think globally and act locally.

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