Monday, April 16, 2018

ES Starts Planting Ghaf Trees!

April 16 brought with it a new opportunity for our students: Tree planting from seeds. The ES Roots & Shoots program - joined by one young boy who had indicated an interest in planting tress to ASD's campus - congregated in our Sustainable Garden to plant the UAE national tree:  Ghaf trees! 

Typically found around the Gulf Coast desert environments the ghaf tree has adapted really well through its ability to utilize both a really deep root structure (up to 60 meters deep) or though the ability to "open" it's trunk during the night to absorb humidity. Cool, right?!

After a short introduction by Tatiana Antonelli from Goumbook our students and parents took on the task of getting sand and water, labeling bags and planting the seeds. In all 17 ghaf trees were planted and will stay in the garden until they are old enough to be either planted somewhere else permanently (how about on our new MS campus extension!) or be moved to the Goumbook nursery. 

The wonderful part of the story is that we have a new partner to work with for the foreseeable future with potential curricular connections to all sorts of sustainability and ecology-based elements!  

A big thank you to Mrs. Rusch and her Roots & Shoots team for this initiative!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Our Garden Gets Attention!

A few weeks ago we mentioned that we are now members of the Green Schools Alliance (GSA), an international coalition of schools aimed at becoming individually and collectively more sustainable in their actions and education.  Upon becoming members it didn't take long for the people at GSA to find out about our Sustainable Garden and, as luck would have it, requested that ASD be represented on their blog. We were delighted to not just be one of the most recent blog posts, but to be featured in their February GSA Newsletter as well! 

Wanting to respect the blog's "home" with GSA we will not publish it here, but we would love it if you could visit the GSA blog post page to read up a bit more!  Feel free to add comments to this post here if you have additional thoughts as well!

Go to the Green Schools Alliance article on the ASD Sustainable Garden here!  

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Service Learning Takes a Hike: The Annapurna Tea House Water Filter Project

Best practices for service learning will say that for service learning to be most impactful it is necessary to have a few characteristics:
  • to address authentic needs
  • to support a community partnership
  • to be ongoing/continuous
  • to include the elements of investigation, planning, action, reflection and demonstration
Typically high-functioning service learning projects take place in a local context, allowing them to be on-going and develop relationships between both 'parties'. In the context of short term experiential learning trips - such as Inspire and Week Without Walls - current evidence would suggest that special attention has to be paid to the needs of the community so that the benefit of the visitors does not happen at the detriment of the perceived beneficiary community.  So you might expect that conversations regarding how to make WWW or Inspire trips most closely focus on an authentic local need and provide ongoing benefits to a community when we are gone just a few day after we arrive are somewhat complicated. But when there is a common understanding, and a supporting will, we can get pretty close.

Here's an "exemplar" we've been developing in this regard:  

The grade 7 hiking trip to Nepal was deemed last year to be "limited" in terms of the community benefit from our presence there. Time was spent trying to investigate the situation while on the hike and one issue that came up was that of plastic water bottles. Conversations with our travel partner, Mountain Quests, indicated that there might be willingness to pilot a filtration system for water. 

We spoke with Matt Farr of Mountain Quests (who is "on board" in terms of how our program might affect the local community on the ground) and determined that purchasing a water filtration system for one of the local guest houses there would be a good start to, hopefully, re-directing the current use of water bottles. The students did background investigation on the problems associated with plastic waste. Last year's students also indicated a need for keeping the trails clear of plastic bottles (which they collected). This gave rise to the creation of The Annapurna Tea House Filtered Water Project. 

On the ground students engaged with the owner of the guest house - the only one who had agreed to try out the new situation. It didn't take long for our students to help the owner see the economic benefits of selling filtered water from source rather than having to purchase water bottles for resale. But the added benefit that popped up was that he would no longer need to find a way to discard the bottles either. Previously he would have to have either moved them long distances or, more likely, burn them (with the pollution that creates). 

The students also engaged the local school which was already focusing on trying to address the problems of water bottles. The school had been doing awareness campaigns but little evidence of success. But not ASD and the local school will partake in mutual data collection and analysis as well as generating reports to be shared with the guest house owner on how much waste has been avoided and how much economic benefit it has resulted in. 

It is no doubt that this is much more "service learning" like than walking down a path picking up water bottles and taking them to the next guest house to keep the place beautiful and to continue to attract more hikers. We are hoping that this program will not just generate data over time (next year's Nepal Hike will also be gathering data) but will hopefully prompt other guest houses to move away from water bottles and invest in filtration systems. We can only hope that, over time, ASD and Mountain Quests will have been involved in reducing the plastic waste impact on the Himalayan hiking trails, have supported the local school in doing so and have allowed the health of the locals to benefit from the absence of toxic fumes. 

Though this post serves as a bit of a demonstration for the learning and the process the true demonstration will be shared by the students at the WWW celebration night. More that that, however, we hope this will also serve as an "exemplar" for what can be done when we merge service experiences with an authentic, ongoing learning experience!

All great stuff!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Building Global Citizens through Week Without Walls!

With travels spanning the eastern hemisphere and with as many diverse cultural connections the Week Without Walls program once again opened the doors of the world - its cultures and communities - to our middle school students. Experiential educational opportunities such as this have been a keystone to an ASD education, but they serve to educate in a much deeper sense than going to new places, doing new things and meeting new people.

There is much research to show that such experiences, cumulatively, create a worldview that is open to diversity, open to the celebration of different cultures, and that people with such experiences (essentially all of our students) become more open minded, flexible, creative and empathic. Likewise, a wealth of research shows that children who are exposed to the outdoors, particularly in nature, develop a much deeper appreciation for the natural world and the totality of diversity of plant and animal life. In short, experiential learning opportunities such as WWW are not only beneficial, but often essential in the development of globally minded citizens. 

To make the experience even more meaningful, however, there is also a good deal of research to suggest that participating in service also opens the doors to empathy, a greater sense of purpose and a deeper recognition of the benefits of giving of one's time, skills and/or friendship. WWW is invaluable in this way for our students as well. And, as engaging as it might be for the local community we support, we recognize that the true value of such trips is often the personal growth that our own students receive through participating. 

This year's WWW allowed students to engage in tree planting, community gardening, maintaining school grounds, building bio-gas chambers, generating awareness about the use of water bottles (in lieu of plastic bottles), among others.  All in all these are the types of things that allow not just exposure to the world, but a much more powerful sense of change making. It is this very disposition that we hope our students return with and, in time, support the development of an ever-growing school community through active citizenship. It's not only about building "cricital consciousness" but in putting that consciousness into practice that matters, especially in a rapidly changing world. 

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

ASD Joins the Green Schools Alliance!

They say that there is strength in numbers and we're sure hoping that, in making our community a better place, this rings true of our work as well. As of this past week, the American School of Dubai is a newly established member of the Green Schools Alliance!  We are delighted to start up this international relationship with over 8,000 like-minded schools across the world as a way to connect, be inspired, share experiences, learn and take informed action on sustainability. 

The process involved the signing and sharing of a Letter of Commitment by our school's administration (represented by Michelle Remington, Associate Superintendent and chair of our Sustainability Committee) to become a "Sustainability Steward". This includes a commitment "to set goals, take action, and monitor and share progress in the three sustainability leadership action tracks: reduce our climate and ecological impact, educate and engage our community and transform our culture". 

This move was the combined effort of the Sustainability Action Team and our Sustainability Committee and sets a more "formal" course toward a sustainable present and future for our community. Of course, a move like this does not heavily alter what we are already doing with regard to improving our collective impact. We are already deeply committed to people and planet. But in choosing to join this collaborative organization we are more formally paving the way to continuing our journey to sustainability. 


Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Nature of Learning

Every year at about this time the HS students in the stage craft class find a way to make our campus just a little bit more user-friendly. As a way of supporting our community this year the HS students are addressing a K1/K2 need for more nature-based outdoor learning and play spaces. Much research has shown that interaction with such spaces connects children to the outdoors, develops an appreciation for nature, stimulates creativity, enhances collaboration, increases mindfulness, increases enjoyment and develops positive attitudes toward people and planet. 

The project has involved conversations with the students, teachers and administration,  including brainstorming, a visit to the elementary school to observe the young students in their natural state of play and planning a nature-based, outdoor space that supports their growth and learning. It has also involved a good amount of research pertaining to natural play areas including examples of such spaces around the world. What is taking shape is a larger space that includes a "mud kitchen" where our younger (and not so young?) community members can, literally, get their hands dirty.  Nothing a hand wash can't get rid of before heading back to class, though. :-)

If last year's Maze garden is any indicator we have great things to look forward to as the project moves forward. HS students have already been spotted outside the K1/K2 classrooms, setting up the new space. With some feedback from our younger students the space is sure to provide great opportunities for individual and collective growth!

All great stuff!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Sustainability Best Practices for ASD Introduced

In December 2017 the launch of ASD "best practices" for sustainability were introduced. A joint initiative by the Office of Service Learning, the Sustainability Action Team and the Sustainability Committee, the best practices serve as expected behaviors with regard to ASD related events and initiatives. 

The information presented in the slides above was shared with the parent organizations the the administrative staff community as well as members of the student community. The thought behind the move is that sustainability has come of age at ASD. No longer are sustainable practices considered "optional" and in our quest to be the best school we can possibly be, it is also necessary to become an example for our community and the world at large. 

The best practices are intended to minimize our use of resources and to focus on the elimination of waste in appropriate ways. Perhaps more important than the best practices, are the conversations that we invite everyone to have with the families, children and colleagues. Whether in the classrooms, the offices, the hallways or our homes, the impact of our collective efforts is great if we consider how our actions affect the world and act accordingly. 

In addition to these recommendations, the Sustainability Action Team has initiated conversations to support membership in the Green Schools Alliance, an international collaborative of schools aimed at becoming more "green". It is hoped, of course, that international collaboration will make our impact even greater.

For ongoing information related to sustainability at ASD, feel free to visit the "GO" page here