Service Learning at ISB

Update · November 15, 2018

Throughout our students’ time at ISB, they are asked to take action in various ways, both as part of the curriculum and through stand alone initiatives. In the curriculum, the community service program builds as students advance through the Primary Years Programme (PYP - PK 3's through 5th Grade) and Middle Years Programme (MYP - 6th Grade-8th Grade), culminating in the MYP Community Service Project each student completes in 8th Grade. In addition to the classroom and individual service projects, ISB also organizes two school-wide service days, Local Day of Service and Global Service Day, to align with our goal of ensuring that our students become locally- and globally-minded.

This year, ISB celebrated its annual Local Day of Service on October 26. We believe it is important for our students to be present and active in our local community, and this day provides opportunities for them to engage in service in a meaningful way. Whenever possible, these service activities are tied to the curriculum and skill building. Under the IB framework, the concept of action is an important step of the inquiry cycle and is the culminating piece of every unit of inquiry, so our teachers are always looking for ways to tie their students’ classroom work into Day of Service.

Kindergarten students helped weed, pick up sticks, and plant bulbs in Cobble Hill Park.

Second Grade students, for example, were engaged in a unit on Rights and Responsibilities this October, and for their action on Day of Service, they wrote postcards to their local representatives about immigration policy. The many discussions and learning experiences that the students had in their classrooms surrounding children’s rights globally, and the students’ own rights and responsibilities in their community, led to this action step and brought a tremendous amount of passion and energy to this project.

We were also thrilled to have some of our students integrating their language skills into their service activity this year. Third Graders visited the Bumble Bee Daycare to read to younger children, and our Spanish track students took this opportunity to read books in Spanish to the Spanish-speaking children at the daycare center. We are looking forward to finding even more opportunities like this, in which students can use their language skills to connect with the multilingual communities that we are a part of, both here in Brooklyn and beyond.

Building Service Throughout our Program

While in the Lower School, community service and action takes place largely in the classroom setting and through our local and global days of service. When students enter Middle School, they experience community service as a larger and fully integrated part of the curriculum, including required service hours to be completed independently. But it is vitally important, according to Miriam Butterman, MYP Coordinator and Service Learning Development, that the students build a deep understanding about why they do service and why it is important.

“We spend a lot of time speaking about service with the 6th and 7th Graders, and in these discussions, we really unpack what it is and what sort of actions we consider to be selfless service. We spend a lot of time on the social emotional aspect of service work and the issues at the center of their service experiences.”

These conversations highlight the importance of perspective taking, empathy, and overcoming challenges to our students, all skills that are built through students’ engagement in community service. “Something we always want to emphasize with students is the why; not just to associate an activity with a number of hours, but to think outside themselves and consider how their volunteerism impacts the community and people around them. As faculty advisors, we talk about empathy and let students know what skills they have and how they can make a difference. We also work with them to build resilience, discussing with them how not to feel blocked when they are in front of someone whose situation is different from their own. We encourage them not to be afraid, even when they encounter discomfort”.

Our students’ activities range from the very small scale to their taking initiative and trying things on their own or with their parents on weekends. Some of these activities take place at school, such as students’ creating decorations for events like the Multilingual Book Fair, or the AV Club's setting up equipment for an assembly or meeting. On the surface, these may not seem like big actions; however, the students’ involvement helps the school and allows our Middle Schoolers to experience and contribute to ISB's culture of participation. Sometimes these activities move beyond campus: for example, we partner with local organizations such as Carroll Park. Every holiday season, the park hosts a big event and our students participate by setting up lights and handing out hot chocolate. Whether helping in the Library, volunteering for a neighborhood event, or prepping AV equipment for a school function, these experiences help our students understand that we are all part of a community and that everyone's participation is what enables things to happen.

“One of goals of the International Baccalaureate is to raise international-minded learners. We believe that in order to achieve this, it takes going a little further with our service work, because there’s only so much that the students can learn within the classroom setting. It’s important for us to give them the right tools and the right knowledge to learn how they can take action and how they can prepare themselves to do so. ISB’s curriculum is intended to give them these opportunities that they wouldn’t really have otherwise, and to expand their mind and get them thinking about empathy and responsibility.” -Vinny Abbate, Athletics Director and Middle Community Service Coordinator

"Our students have some really great community service opportunities throughout the year, and we also make sure that they have the opportunity to reflect on the actions they are taking and think about why they are doing the service that they are doing.” -Miriam Butterman, MYP Coordinator/Service Learning Development

Going Beyond Community Service Hours: The MYP Community Project

Our students have natural compassion and an innate instinct to want to help, and the community service program at ISB is designed to build in such a way as to give our students the social-emotional and intellectual skills necessary to focus their energy toward action. The culminating project of our students’ community service experience is the MYP Community Service Project, in which our students direct their own learning by designing service projects on topics that are meaningful to them.

The Community Project is organized in four parts: investigating, planning, taking action, and reflecting. “The investigating and the planning requires a lot of the independence of our students, and taking action can be done in many ways. We discuss direct action, indirect action, approaches to learning skills, advocacy, and research. Sometimes students decide that they want to learn more about a situation that is happening in the world and will use their project as a way to impart that knowledge to us. Or they may go out in the field; for example, last year, two students created a community journal which they called 'The Brooklyn Book of Thoughts.' The idea for this community journal was to bring coffee shop patrons together to write their thoughts in a shared notebook. They put these journals around local coffee shops because they wanted to connect people. The students just loved to write and thought maybe others would too. Their reflection, after reading the many thoughtful comments left in the books, was that people have so much more in common than they think". -Miriam Butterman

“I love seeing the projects because some students just go above and beyond anything that you have expected and come up with these really great ideas. While the final projects vary in scale, you can see that they bring their own experiences and passion into each one.” -Vinny Abbate


We look forward to seeing the many ways our students will work to improve their communities in the months ahead, and we are especially grateful to Miriam, Vinny, and all the classroom teachers who work to make community service and action such an enriching and fundamental part of the ISB experience for our students.