By Martina Duque
In Junior year, I began the IB Diploma. As part of my two-year course, I needed to complete an 18 month program where I had to record hours devoted to Creativity, Activity and Service, thus the acronym C.A.S. This program is one of the two cores of the diploma, making it incredibly important. As I was already part of sports teams and service clubs, I didn’t think much of it. I would only need to fit in a few creative things here and there. I believed it was simply another part of the “evil” corporate scheme determined to eat away my free time. And yet, it was anything but. Now, looking back on my 18 months of C.A.S., I realized that
C.A.S. has taught me many things. I learned to balance my time and explore my passions beyond the classroom. I learned how to be considerate of my actions and reflect upon what my experiences mean to me. And I also learned how to set goals and follow through on them.
I have always tried to be a balanced person. When I was younger I used to spend entire afternoons dancing or training for gymnastics. In Middle School, I joined the JV Swim team and later made my way to Varsity. I also became deeply involved in clubs and devoted many of my afternoons trying to make a difference in my community through programs such as Gamma and Brick by Brick. And I genuinely loved every single thing that I did. I felt proud of devoting so much time to the things that I was passionate about beyond academics. But, as I grew up, and school became more difficult, my activities began to lose the passion they once had. Faced with the competitive and anxious “college epidemic,” I felt as if grades and a high GPA were no guarantee of getting into my dream school. Determined to become a “well-rounded” person, I continued to fill my schedule with every type of activity. I began to see them as responsibilities, rather than simple things that brought me joy. Each day, and each afternoon, became a tick off of my to-do list.
This is the same mentality with which I first approached C.A.S. It was just another responsibility. Yet, with a few months of doing it, my attitude completely changed. IB students at ASF need to write two C.A.S. blogs per month. In these blogs, we need to not only describe the activity, but have an obtainable goal and reflect upon our experiences. I suddenly had to ask myself what my experiences meant to me. What did I want to achieve whenever I stepped on to the tennis court for practice? What did it truly mean when I stood in front of a class at Gamma and taught my students how to split words into syllables. It made me reflect on the importance and significance of the endless hours I was devoted to these activities. High school and the blinding thought of future college applications had turned my afternoon activities into responsibilities. My C.A.S. experience reminded me that this was not so. I once again began to feel passionate about what I was doing and no longer cared about what they would mean in the future. I simply did things that made me happy and wholesome.
Having this change of mentality made all the difference. Now confronted with the responsibility of recording these hours and writing these blogs, I began to take advantage of it. I pushed myself to try things I had always wanted to do. I organized the Sunday Reforma bike ride on Reforma that had been on my bucket list for as long as I had been able to ride a bike. I began to take drawing classes and finally began to master tools and techniques that I had been scared to try. I even bought a guitar, determined to learn how to play my favorite songs. Although I never did get around to any guitar lessons, that experience is just testimony of how C.A.S. made me passionate about the things I set out to do. It taught me that the secret to finding “the balance” that everyone struggled with was to simply be passionate about the things that you are doing.
One of the most important aspects of our C.A.S blogs is our learning outcomes. These outcomes are goals that help guide and balance the activities that we are doing. For example, the first learning outcome is to identify your own strengths and areas of growth and the second is to undertake new challenges and develop new skills. We are supposed to reach the seven learning outcomes various times throughout our 18 months of C.A.S. The most complicated learning outcomes are number six and seven. They ask you to be engaged with issues of global importance and to recognize and consider the ethics of choices and actions. These were the ones that mostly applied to the service branch of C.A.S. Often times, when people approach community service, they take on an invasive approach. They fundraise and donate endless supplies and money without ever considering what people really need. But the reality is that there is a difference between charity and service. You have to be sure that your help is not only effective, but considerate of the needs of others.
I tried to apply this mentality and these two learning outcomes to Gamma club. Every Tuesday, around 150 kids from the surrounding underprivileged primary schools come to campus. Choosing from any two of the subjects we offer (English, Math, Technology, Art and Spanish), they have the opportunity of exploring and using the school’s resources. As officer of the club, it takes an incredible amount of planning and effort to keep this program running. Inspired by the C.A.S. mentally we had learned, the officers met at the end of Junior year to reflect on our program. Although we put our 200% effort into it, there were many things we could improve. We noticed that many of our student volunteer teachers did not really know how to approach a teaching position. They failed at interacting with their students and keeping them engaged. Neither them, nor us officers, truly considered the ethical considerations of having untrained students teach our classes. This meant that the kids were not getting everything they could from the program. Because of this, we spent the end of last year, and the beginning of this year, planning workshops with some of the most distinguished teachers in lower school. For example, we worked with the English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers to plan a workshop showing high schoolers how to approach teaching the kids English. The improvement in teaching was exponential. This is just one of the experiences where C.A.S. has pushed me to be conscious about my actions and become a better helper and person.
I am incredibly grateful for the experience and the life lessons it gave me. The IB Diploma aims at teaching its students to question their knowledge and be curious about the world around them. C.A.S gave me the opportunity to apply this mentality to what I was doing outside of the academic world. Even if it isn’t through a structured program such as C.A.S, I urge anyone to find passion in everything that they are doing. Never approach your activities as a responsibility, but rather an opportunity to explore your passions and bring balance to your academic or work career. C.A.S. most definitely impacted my last two years at ASF for the better and will continue to influence me in the future.