The International School in Oregon, U.S. set up an innovative programme to encourage their Primary Years Programme (PYP) students to take action in the community during the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.
By Sarah Burvill
Distance learning has greatly affected how we engage with our students and when school closures were enforced, we scrambled to figure out how to transfer our play-based, full-immersion programme into the homes of our students. We realized that we needed to nurture our entire community to look within and outside of themselves to foster agency and action. The beauty of the Primary Years Programme (PYP) is realized when students take action to make the world a better place and during this global pandemic, our action warriors rose to the challenge.
As the action coordinator for the International School (TIS) in Portland, Oregon I worked with our leadership team to develop a schedule that would give students and teachers time to create initiatives and take action. We called our movement #TIStogether and decided that every Friday would be focused on action and would be free from our SeeSaw and Google Classroom assignments.
We kicked off our #TIStogether campaign with a whole-school assembly to celebrate the ways our teachers and their families had already been taking action. We then shared the video on SeeSaw and asked, “How have you been helping yourself, your family or your community?’’ We received hundreds of action photos, videos and drawings demonstrating empathy, compassion and responsibility including:
Action warrior training programme
From here, the #TIStogether action warrior training programme was born. Students, alumni, staff and families engaged in transdisciplinary social and emotional learning (SEL), developing respect and empathy and making meaningful connections with their communities through teacher-modelled and student-led action. These were big steps in the journey to becoming global citizens.
Step 1: The self
Developing self-compassion was extremely important in the early stages of the stay at home order. We can’t take action to help others unless we help ourselves after all! First, we offered a guided activity: making an emergency happiness kit, a box with items or words to remind you how to make yourself feel better. The following week, we shared a choice sheet with ideas for self-care activities. Each sheet had a blank page for students to take agency and share their own ways of self-soothing.
Step 2: Friends and family
Students were prompted to reflect, choose and act. “Who would you like to take action to help?” “What would they like?” These prompts addressed the developmental stages in understanding that we all have individual wants and needs. We made connections to celebrations: Children’s Day in Japan and Mother’s Day in the U.S. Fewer examples and ideas were given to allow for greater agency especially among the older learners.
Step 3: Neighbours
This was a challenging level to develop because social distancing guidelines made safe contact with neighbours difficult. Our action warriors reflected on the challenge, chose what to do and acted with community sharing tables and garden concerts. One student set up a lawn mowing service and donated the money he earned to the local food bank. During this time, we also celebrated Earth Day, which was a further opportunity to recognize action.
Step 4: Essential workers
Mindful to differentiate this task across developmental levels, we considered that the youngest students would make meaningful connections to those essential workers who come to their homes such as garbage collectors and mail delivery people, whereas older students might reach out further. Our action warrior community wrote thank you letters and sent cookies to hospitals and left messages on their mailboxes.
Step 5: The international community
As a full immersion school, we were able to reach out to the community in four languages—English, Chinese, Japanese and Spanish. Students recorded messages for children around the world, which were combined into a video to share with our partner schools in China, Japan and Mexico.
Outcomes and reflections
As we progressed through the steps, we witnessed changes in how students were engaging as they were becoming more thoughtful, more creative and were developing a stronger sense of purpose.
One student set up ‘The Green Bean Team’ as a way of taking action to make the world greener. This club also reached out to our international community, resulting in a small growing membership around the world.
Across the community, people were talking about #TIStogether and how they were taking action. They were recognizing that even though we were all responding to the call for action differently, we were working together as a community to be caring, thoughtful and responsible.
The success of this programme comes from its organic nature, weekly reflection and development within a basic outline. It filled a need for the community to be united and I am enormously proud of the work our learners did to take part in this initiative.
Sarah Burvill is a British Primary Years Programme (PYP) early years performing arts teacher and action coordinator at The International School (TIS) in Portland, Oregon. She has taught in PYP schools in Denmark and America as well as teaching in a UNICEF school for refugees in Greece. She joined the team at TIS in August 2019. Before teaching, Sarah worked with adults with mental health problems and learning disabilities. She continues to take action in her spare time working with the homeless in Portland.
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