On December 4th, 2010 HKIS hosted its 4th annual “Service Summit,” an event that kicks off Humanities I in Action students’ Personal Action Projects (PAP).
This year, in addition to the 120 grade 9 Humanities I in Action students, 25 middle school students and 10 upper primary students also joined the event. This blog post will provide specific details about how the Service Summit was organized, the basic components of the Personal Action Project, the integration of the Service Summit into the Humanities I in Action curriculum, and the broader school-wide strategy that was involved in including other divisions at the Summit.
The Service Summit
This is the fourth year that Humanities I in Action students have participated in the Service Summit, the schedule of which has evolved over time. This year’s event schedule followed the format below:
2:15 – 3:00 Keynote Presentation: Leah and Alex from “Free the Children”
3:05 – 3:20 Workshop #1
3:25-3:40 Workshop #2
3:45-4:00 Workshop #3
4:05-4:20 Workshop #4
4:25 – 4:40 Workshop #5
4:45 – 5:00 Final Debrief with Leah & Alex
The first key ingredient of the Service Summit was to have an inspirational keynote presentation. For some years we have known the organization “Free the Children,” the Canadian NGO started in 1995 by then 12-year old Craig Kielburger. Four years ago Craig visited the school and inspired the entire campus with presentations leading up to our annual charity fashion show. Since that time, we have invited “Free the Children” speakers to return on several occasions. Having had presenter Leah Ruinsky come and provide an outstanding and well-rehearsed presentation with a co-leader last year, we invited her and Alex Meers, a leadership specialist with the organization, to return this year. Their 45-minute presentation before 200 people attending the Summit in a large seminar room provided palpable energy, direction, and purpose for the day’s event. Following a high-energy starter, they used a series of visuals and videos to introduce themselves and their organization, “Free the Children.” The highlight of their presentation was the re-telling of dramatic personal stories of their own service experiences in China and India, memories that continue to inspire their passion for social change.
The second major component of the Service Summit was breakout sessions. Students attended sessions presented by 17 student-run, on-campus service clubs and 6 off-campus NGOs. Most of the on-campus groups are chapters of various organizations (e.g., Amnesty International, Habitat for Humanity, Global Issues Network, etc). Two PAP groups from last year’s Humanities I in Action class also presented. The NGO contingent represented causes such as refugees in Hong Kong, girls’ scholarships in China, and teaching about social issues at a local tutorial center. Having learned from past experience that students prefer shorter introductions to topics and groups, each session lasted only 15 minutes. Following breakout presentations, everyone was brought back together for a final sendoff. Leah and Alex led a short sharing of highlights and I closed the event with thank you’s and a final word of affirmation and support as they start their PAPs.
Having run three previous Service Summits, the effect of this year’s event was enhanced with several fine-tuning steps. First, thanks to the full support of the school administration, we were able to fly out two inspiring guests from “Free the Children” who know our school culture and could apply their strengths to our community’s needs. Second, the ratio of 2/3 on-campus groups and 1/3 NGOs seemed to be a effective mix. On the one hand, having the majority of groups coming from within the school kept the focus on in-house relationships and on-going school initiatives. On the other hand, off-campus NGOs injected new energy into the event as well as brought community recognition of the value of our PAPs. The third key element of the Summit, better integration of the Service Summit into the Humanities I in Action curriculum, is explained in a section below.
Personal Action Projects
The Service Summit sets into motion student work on their Personal Action Projects. The basic parameters of the PAP are that students choose groups of four or less to study an issue and implement some action from December until May. Since the amount of fundraising distracted from our educational goals as well as became an irritant to the school administration last year, we are encouraging students to choose activities where the most valuable gift is time rather than money. Some project examples include: regular visits to a Hong Kong elderly home, bringing backpacks to street children in Manila, building a well in China, reducing students’ personal carbon footprint, and introducing “meatless Mondays” to the school cafeteria. Time will be set aside in class (approximately one day in an 8-day rotation) for students to meet in groups to develop their project and to discuss their progress with teachers. Students will receive a grade based on the process they undertake as well as the end product they demonstrate. Final presentations of their PAPs will occur in May.
Given the considerable time investment of the PAP, several years ago I interviewed groups from two classes at the end of the year to get student advice on whether we should continue the PAP in the future. Despite a wide range of success (or lack thereof) on their PAPs, all groups felt it was worth the time. They reasoned that since their education over the years had been mostly academic, they saw the PAP as a valuable opportunity to impact the world for some greater good.
Integration of the Service Summit into the Humanities I in Action Curriculum
The third important element that enhanced the Service Summit was using it as a means to better develop the goals of the Humanities I in Action course. The Service Summit emerged out of an understanding of our students’ development needs. Based on qualitative research with our students (Schmidt, 2009), we learned that social conscience education has three main components: awareness, emotional engagement, and action. From August until the Service Summit in December, our curriculum addresses issues related to human nature and human behavior, primarily focusing on the darker side of these topics. We read Lord of the Flies (Golding, 1954), examine the Milgram and Stanford psychology experiments, and study the topic of genocide, including Rwanda and Darfur. We also have various out-of-the-classroom service experiences (e.g., hosting refugees at the school, doing a beach clean-up, entertaining children at a bereavement center). The highlight of the course for many students is a 3-day visit to an orphanage in southern China in November.
In addition to these primary elements of the curriculum, teachers also occasionally refer to contemporary events to relate today’s newspaper headlines to the study of human nature. Finally, issues such as forgiveness, restorative justice, and taking action for various causes are also included both as potential curative strategies for “mankind’s essential illness” (Golding, 1954, p. 189) as well as to maintain hope in the midst of a sobering curriculum.
With regard to the three major elements of social conscience education, students by this point in the semester have experienced a heightened sensitivity to human nature, themselves and their world. Emotionally, topics such as genocide as well as their service experiences, especially the weekend trip to a Chinese orphanage, have touched many of the students deeply. Once awareness and emotion are brought together in a class, most students then want to act on behalf of social causes and inequities. From a longer-term perspective of personal growth, students believe that their social conscience education is incomplete without an action component (Schmidt, 2009). Thus, early December seems to be an appropriate point in the curriculum to hold the Service Summit, and one that is necessary to achieve the goal of social conscience education.
Use of the Service Summit in School-Wide Strategy
From a school-wide perspective, the Service Summit supports one of our six Strategic Learning Results, “Contributing to Society,” which states that “students will develop the skills they need to form genuine relationships in our diverse society and to make contributions to our community.” With regard to this goal, the high school has experienced tremendous growth over the last 15 years in its service program; other divisions have also included various elements of service in their curricular and extracurricular activities. Recognizing the focus on service at the school, the Board of Managers has recently approved funding for a new building that will include a Service Learning Center to enhance social conscience education across all four divisions. Thus including middle school and upper primary school students at the Service Summit, which had previously only been offered to high school students, supports a long-term goal of developing more social awareness and action across the entire school.
The Service Summit has also served to ameliorate some specific divisional concerns. While the high school has had much success with a multitude of service projects, trips, courses, and events, these achievements have highlighted a challenge: many projects end once students who championed their particular causes graduate. The Service Summit addresses this problem in that service club leaders share their passion with underclassmen about some issue in hopes that these students will carry on the graduating students’ projects. This also attempts to deal with questions some seniors have about their long-term value to the school. If younger students continue a project, seniors feel they have left a ‘legacy’. On the other hand, younger students highly value the service and leadership experiences of older students. Middle school students listen carefully when older students share what they have learned through their four years of high school. Finally, “priming” of younger students before they get to high school further supports teaching Humanities I in Action classes.
The Service Summit event has emerged out of a belief that Humanities I in Action students need to put their learning into action in order to further develop the social conscience educational process. This year’s inclusion of guest speakers from a highly reputed NGO provided the confidence for organizers not only to support students’ Personal Actions Projects, but also to extend the value of this event to other divisions of the school. Providing depth in the curriculum of one class, then, simultaneously was able to horizontally strengthen the school’s goal of “Contributing to Society” across other divisions of the school. It is hoped that the Service Summit will provide ideas and inspiration that can be incorporated into the future Service Learning Center at HKIS.
Golding, W. (1960). Lord of the flies. London: Faber and Faber.
Schmidt, M.E. (2009). Teaching for social conscience in Hong Kong secondary schools. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia.