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October 26, 2011

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Get out there and get involved

STUDENTS of all ages benefit from being a part of student council or doing community work. Such experiences teach them how to work with others and manage their time, while also providing leadership opportunities. Tan Weiyun reports.

A student council plays an important role in a school. It's a place where students share their ideas, interests and concerns with teachers and school principals. It helps raise funds for school-wide activities and also assists the community when they are in need of aid.

Being on the student council is something that helps students become responsible and active members of the community.

"Teamwork is certainly one of the key skills students learn through service and student council work. They also build leadership abilities, develop organizational skills, improve practical problem-solving abilities, learn to negotiate and find consensus and are given opportunities to apply some of the concepts they learn in their classes in real world situations. The benefits are numerous and substantial," says Don Macmillan, principal of Shanghai Community International School's Pudong Upper School.

SCIS Pudong students, particularly those in the 11th and 12th grade IB program, spend a significant amount of time in community service work. Those involved in student council meet at least weekly and in addition put in long hours planning and carrying out events.

Education for All, an initiative launched by the students last year to provide educational programs to a local migrant school, involves students designing, planning and delivering lessons to local children.

Interact, a service group for SCIS students associated with the Rotary Club, has traditionally been one of the most popular after-school activities. Last year, this group raised funds in order to participate in a Habitat for Humanity trip to Cambodia and this year is building a school for impoverished children right here in Shanghai.

The student government gathers a group of young passionate people, who like to bring about change, enjoy planning events and have enough time to serve others.

"Typically, we spend about an hour per week at least on community or student council teamwork. More often than not, we spend much more time; this is because we understand the time commitment required of us, and this is primarily demonstrated in the process of our large events such as Prom," says Peter Zang, Grade 12, president of Concordia International School Shanghai Student Body.

This November, the school's Global Issues Network (GIN) team will organize and host a monthlong school-wide awareness and fund-raising campaign based on the United Nations sponsored Nothing But Nets program.

According to Concordia high school senior Ping Chin, "The objective of the project is to raise as much money as possible for Nothing But Nets, which is a grassroots campaign to save lives by preventing malaria, the cause of 20 percent of all childhood deaths in Africa. For every US$10 donated, an anti-malaria bed net is purchased for an African family. These long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets are able to reduce malaria transmission by 90 percent."

The fund-raising campaign will include sales of T-shirts and pins, but will also have each class from Concordia Elementary, Middle and High School develop their own fund-raiser to support the cause.

All students of Dulwich College Shanghai from Years 1 to 13 take part in the college's extracurricular activities and have the choice to change activities each term. Many of these activities also have a community service element.

Students on the IB program are encouraged to design their own program of developing holistically. They have a number of choices where they can take part in short-term or long-term programs. Activities can operate in each of the three strands - Creativity, Action and Service (CAS). Students can take part in activities which involve learning a new skill or improving a skill.

"Universities are looking for well-rounded individuals. They really value students who get involved outside the classroom and become part of the wider community, both on campus and off campus. This in turn carries over to career possibilities. I think good employers tend to value these same qualities in the people they seek to hire," says Tejinder Rajput, head of Psychology and CAS coordinator.

China Week has to be Dulwich's most popular activity whereby students from all year groups go on a weeklong trip to different regions in China. This year's students from Year 7 went to Hangzhou and Year 12s to Shandong Province.

Douglas Willard, university guidance counselor from Shanghai Singapore International School, points out that proper community and council work is very important to students' future career.

"It fosters leadership, cooperation and independence at the same time. Students involved in these endeavors must learn to balance their time and yet obtain the maximum results possible. Students learn better communication skills and refine their ability to work with others in groups as well as making presentations to large groups of people. All of these skills are very helpful when one joins the real world of work," Willard says.

The counselor also admits that students must learn to divide their time and energy wisely between studying and community work.

"It is kind of haphazard as some kids are very organized and others aren't. Some kids spend too much time on community work and not enough on their academics," he says. "If a student doesn't monitor what they do, they can easily loose control of their academics and be overwhelmed by the overall load they have taken on."

Clever students can balance them skillfully. Karyn, Year 10, student council co-president at YCIS Shanghai's Century Park campus says time management is crucial.

"Prioritizing has been a main part of managing my time, and through such a process, there is always an element of sacrifice where you have to spend less time on doing things that you enjoy doing, but in the end, it's all worth it because the experience of being a leader is an irreplaceable one," Karyn says.

"Student council work has not impeded my studies but, in fact, has made me more focused. Another way that I divide my time and handle time restraints is by making sure that I am fully focused when doing a task so that I would be able to finish it more efficiently and effectively, leaving extra time for student council work or leisure."

Western International School Shanghai encourages its students to be actively involved in community and charity projects. High school students are required to do a minimum number of service hours each year. There are many students who contribute much more than that and WISS promotes that involvement and notices that the young people begin to receive a benefit that brings them back for more. In Grades 11 and 12, the students do not count hours. Their service responsibilities are measured in outcomes. They have an online blog in which they reflect on the activities they have participated in. Their CAS coordinator reads those reflections and maintains a dialogue with them to see if they are achieving the prescribed outcomes.

Students in the primary years are also very involved and they are currently taking part in a read-a-thon to benefit Couleurs de Chine.

"Community works builds awareness. In whatever career we choose we will be working in a community and no matter how much money you make or how high a position people have they will always present needs. It helps young people acquire an ethic of social responsibility," says John Cucinello, Secondary English teacher and IB CAS coordinator of WISS.

Design Technology Club @ YCIS

The Design Technology Club continues to be a popular part of the after-school program at YCIS Shanghai.

The club allows secondary level students to investigate how things work through projects they design, create and test using different materials, machines and processes. The club also gives students the opportunity to become part of various design teams and enter competitions against other schools in Shanghai.

Following the success of the Hovercraft Team last year, a 10-person team is currently preparing to take part in a competition on flight motion. The competition will be against 12 other Chinese and international schools and involves making air-powered rockets, highly accurate planes and a 7-meter-long solar balloon.

Paparazzi Photo @ SSIS

Student paparazzi reporters in Primary 3 to Primary 6 have been challenged to take great photos of SSIS in action.

Once they have taken their photos, they return to the computer lab. Here they are taught to use a photo editing program available on the Internet. They develop skills to crop, retouch, adjust exposure and use filters to enhance their photo. The goal is to have their peers exclaim, "Oh wow!" when the photos are displayed at the weekly school assembly.

On request, they also work with the Reporters Club, supplying photos to budding journalists.

These skills empower the student to create better photos, not just snaps from an automatic camera. They are then able to continue with their editing skills at home on their own family photos.

Interact @ SCIS Pudong

Interact is one of the longest running and most popular extracurricular activities at SCIS Pudong. Associated with the Rotary Club, the purpose of Interact is to promote student involvement in community and international service. The students have assisted in water development projects in China, engaged in Habitat for Humanity projects in Cambodia and are now involved in building a learning center for orphaned children near Shanghai.

There is much involved beyond the actual projects as students attend planning meetings, organize fund-raising events and promote their cause to the school community. The students' efforts have been recognized at Shanghai Rotary Club meetings when students presented their work to the delegates.


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