[Reader's Essay] Oreum - A Service Learning Initiative
Service Learning Coordinator and Department Head – Arts
Branksome Hall Asia
Service Learning and Service Action are most often associated with large scale, highly visible events and causes related to humanity and the environment. As an international school located in Jeju, since Branksome Hall Asia’s inception, the school has been involved in many such projects through grade level programs, CASE extra-curricular activities, international service placements and special event days. These activities encourage students to be outward looking and actively engaged with worthy causes.
However, for the student’s involvement to be truly meaningful and contribute to their learning, the action needs to go beyond simply ‘doing’ the service. There needs to be genuine understanding of need, authentic altruism and a personal commitment to the ethos of Service. To that end, we have introduced a new program to the school this year which encourages students to first interpret Service in a more intimate and local way. Also in part as a response to the limitations caused by Covid-19 restrictions, we have sought ways to have students apply the spirit of Service to their peers within the school.
The Oreum program partners a Junior School class with one or two Middle School Advisory classes for activities that bring them together at various times during the school year. The name of the program is a reference to the many oreum (small hills) that distinguish the Jeju landscape and the ascent of students through their school years, celebrating how that journey can be mutually enhanced by sharing it with others. The experience of Middle School students who have already travelled the lower slopes of their education oreum is invaluable to the Junior School students as they take their first steps, and the role of mentor for the Middle School students is one that provides them with a valuable opportunity for practical leadership.
The activities are sometimes undertaken at arranged times when the whole school is involved and at other times organized independently between the partner classes. Though only in the early stages, the corridors have already echoed to the delighted laughter and activity of cooking, trust games, story-telling, sports and music. As the program evolves and expands it is anticipated to include academic tutoring, external Service activities, parental involvement and Senior School student participation. The specifics of how the classes interact are largely determined and organized by the students in response to what they discover as needs, reinforcing their understanding of the core requirement of any larger scale Service provision.
All learning is a journey, each step needing to be well placed and connected to the next, advancing on the completion of the previous. By identifying the essential components of that process and ensuring that they are well founded, the ethos of Service can be established in the core beliefs of students at a young age. It can be small to begin with. Spontaneous acts of kindness. Sharing a toy or snack. Considering the feelings of others. Listening. These are simple social skills but lay at the heart of Service Learning if it is to grow into authentic Service Action.
While large scale public acts of Service in relation to high profile issues are most often what we see and associate with Service Learning, the essential element for tackling such significant challenges is authentic motivation and commitment by individuals. Encouraging students to interact with their peers across age levels engenders empathy, patience, leadership, aspirational thinking, diverse language skills, creativity and altruism. In negotiating this Oreum, everyone involved supports and is supported on their climb, preparing them for the mountains that inevitably lay ahead.