Dear Parents, Students, Colleagues,
Last week I wrote in general about what is for me a hugely exciting long-term community project linking up with various people and agencies in Sishui County, Shandong. In the coming months, we’ll be aiming to rent a house close to the Shengshuiyu Primary School and refurbish it to accommodate Keystone students, teachers and, I hope, some parents. I say ‘some parents’ as the PTA Committee is keen to arrange for a few parents to visit the area soon to gain a deeper understanding of what we are setting out to do. We plan to take various groups there in the first semester of the coming school year, and maybe one or two before that.
However, the big step forward, as I said at the end of last week’s article, is for all the Grade 8 students of the coming school year, 2021/2022, to spend a week there. We hope to do this in the second semester, in advisory groups, two groups at a time. This will constitute the ELP experience for the Grade 8 students in the spring.
The basic elements of the program are these:
· Service Activities – students and teachers will engage directly with local people through meaningful projects and activities seeking to benefit groups there who have defined needs;
· Reflection and Sharing – students will be guided through several reflective and group-sharing activities to deepen their awareness of self and privilege in this local community context, as well as the greater, interconnected world;
· Life Responsibility and Chores – students will be tasked with some life skills duties through the week, such as cleaning and cooking;
· Experiential Learning and Outdoor Exercise – students will explore and use the outdoors as a medium for learning outside the classroom, such as in hiking, cooking, farming and growing, etc.;
· Project Deliverables – students will work collaboratively in small teams to bring back their knowledge and experiences so as to integrate these in a final output and/or report to share with the greater Keystone community, and to inspire future initiatives to carry the project forward sustainably into the future.
In greater detail, the one-week itinerary will look more or less like this. These daily routines were put together during a weekend seminar held at Keystone just before we broke for our short holiday in December. The team from Knowledge and Experience for Real Understanding (KERU) stayed at Keystone and together we drew up what I have distilled into this short piece:
Day 1, Sunday: Program Orientation – The groups travel to Sishui by train and have an orientation to the area and the program in the afternoon and speak to or show their pre-trip assignments.
Day 2, Monday: Community Adventure and Farming – The students embark on experiential community exploration, engage in some basic farming activities, and prepare dinner together in the evening.
Day 3,Tuesday: Visit Qufu and the Birthplace of Confucius – The students will learn about local development in Sishui county and also hike to the birthplace of Confucius on a hill near Qufu.
Day 4, Wednesday: Shengshuiyu Primary School Visit and Student Exchange – On this one day in the weeklong experience, Keystone students will spend their day at the local primary School, visit classes, promote the Keystone reading and library programs, and engage in some service activities with the students there.
Day 5, Thursday: Cultural Activity and Engaging with the Elderly – The groups will explore the arts of meditation and tai-chi, and also experience service work with elderly people, including storytelling and oral history.
Day 6, Friday: Reflection and Departure – On the final morning the students, working on their own and in small groups, will prepare a draft of a final presentation on their service learning and related experiences during the week which will be delivered at Keystone when they return.
The presentation mentioned above will require the students to demonstrate the skills and capabilities to:
· Express an understanding for the situation of others and a new commitment to help others through service learning;
· Seek to understand the local community through real-world contexts;
· Utilize the outdoors and community immersion as a new dimension for learning;
· Identify and investigate real social issues faced by people of different socio-economic backgrounds;
· Work together collaboratively to identify potential ways to address these issues.
Some of this may sound a little dry. However, I know that it will be totally absorbing, and that the week will fly by. I am looking forward a great deal to accompanying one of the groups. I have visited Shengshuiyu once, to help explore these possibilities, and I feel very confident about its potential.
With thanks and acknowledgment to our partners and friends at KERU, Ming Khor, Yinan Wang, and Frances Deram.
With warm regards,
Head of School