Connection and Relevance through Local Service Learning
by Sarah Urquhart, Secondary Service Coordinator & Science Teacher
In any given week in the middle school, YIS students are engaged in local service activities through our service partnerships that have paired each grade with an organization in the surrounding community. Grade 6 regularly visit the elderly residents at a senior's home in Shin-yamashita, playing cards and engaging in other student-planned activities. Grade 7 has begun a partnership with nearby Myokoji Temple to help care for the temple grounds and facilities. Grade 8 students build relationships with the students of Hijirizaka Special Needs School through collaborative art, dance and sport activities. Research, planning and reflection by our students on these activities is conducted through the tutor program and is structured using the YIS Service Learning Models.
As with all good partnerships, the benefits are reciprocal. The members of our community enjoy the companionship and assistance of our students. YIS students learn about the needs of the elderly, people with various special needs and Buddhist culture. Additionally, the students improve their communication, organization, leadership and collaboration skills. These experiences help students develop empathy and introduce them to people with whom they may not otherwise engage. In writing about their experience at the senior's home, one grade 6 student shared, "I learned to speak slowly, be kind to older people, and to be patient. To smile at them will make them happy." Another student reflected, "I am sometimes very shy when I am asking people questions but I had to take a risk and get out of my comfort zone."
These middle school partnerships build on what students experience with service learning in the elementary school and are intentionally kept local. The close proximity makes direct engagement possible and also opens students' eyes to others around them. In some countries, it is possible for international schools to become 'bubble communities' that are isolated from their surroundings, often because of cultural and language differences. However, partnerships like these 'burst the bubble' and integrate us within a community, demonstrating that perceived cultural and language barriers are surmountable and that collaboration is beneficial for all. Many of our students have spent their childhood and adolescent years living in multiple cities, countries, and environments. Opportunities to engage locally can help students feel more connected and purposeful within Yokohama and Japan.
In one of my favorite interviews with American Astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, he reflects on a fundamental human desire. He states, "That's what you really want in life; you want to feel connected. You want to feel relevant. You want to feel like you are a participant in the goings-on of activities and events around you". At YIS, service learning allows our students to get connected, feel relevant and engage in a meaningful way.