CAS: The heart of the Diploma Programme
For many IB students, creativity, action, service (CAS) is the heart of the Diploma Programme. It provides a self-driven, fulfilling experience that helps students broaden their perspectives while often helping the community at large.
To gain a greater understanding of the value of CAS, we spoke to Franklin Hurtado, CAS coordinator at Colegio Politécnico COPOL de Guayaquil in Ecuador and Dan Stewart, CAS coordinator at Collège André-Laurendeau in Canada.
A complement to academic studies
For IB students, CAS can provide a welcome change from classroom studies. It gives them a chance to broaden their horizons as they meet additional students, teachers, and people in the community at large. As Mr. Stewart noted, “CAS gets kids out of the books for awhile and into the real world. It gets them involved in new things, educates them about their world, their communities, and themselves.”
CAS provides an important new challenge for Diploma students, according to Mr. Hurtado. “As a supplement to class work, the real-life experience of CAS makes the student an agent of change in their communities.”
A rewarding opportunity for IB teachers as well as students
With its emphasis on personal growth and community service, CAS provides rewarding opportunities for teachers and coordinators as well. Mr. Hurtado sees it as “an opportunity to serve society in a systematic manner starting with the projects planned by our institution.” Mr. Stewart appreciates the opportunity to watch students excel in unexpected areas. “Sometimes it’s a student without the best marks who shines in a valuable community service project. I see it over and over again.”
Mr. Stewart is also proud to spearhead his school’s annual CAS trip to an impoverished village in the Andes mountains of Ecuador. “We visit between the fall and winter semesters in Ecuador. We work in their schools, teach English, plant gardens, and develop a tourist infrastructure to help the village generate income.” Mr. Stewart explained that it takes nearly a year to plan the trip, which has been a regular event for years. “It’s rewarding to establish an ongoing, friendly relationship with the people of the village and to see the improvements in their lives over the years.” Mr. Stewart said that students who attend the Ecuador village remain dedicated to its goals even after they graduate. “I regularly hear from graduate students who volunteer to help any way they can.”
Determining the right CAS project
For students, choosing a worthwhile project is an important component of CAS. With the help of CAS coordinators, teachers and family, students can choose a project from a broad range of options. Some choose based on existing passions and previous experiences, others choose based on career choices, and still others choose based on a desire to help their community.
To help students make choices that are right for their individual interests and capabilities, CAS coordinators and counselors provide guidance, suggest topics, and match students with worthwhile community projects. As Mr. Hurtado explained, “It is my job to create opportunities for viable projects that can help our community.”
Due to the independent nature of a student’s CAS project, IB World Schools encourage parents to become involved. In addition, since the community often benefits from CAS projects, community organizations often maintain close contact with CAS coordinators.
From his experience, Mr. Hurtado has learned that within a community-based CAS project, IB teachers can motivate and lead students, parents, and the community. Parents must be provided with detailed information to support the efforts of their children. The community must match the commitment of the students and teachers to benefit fully from the project. And students must manage the entire project—their level of participation defines the scope and ultimate success of each CAS undertaking.
Evaluating a CAS project
With the new CAS guidelines, student hours are no longer counted, and students are not required to submit regular reports. However, Mr. Stewart noted that schools have many ways to keep track of students. “We track progress regularly at individual and group meetings. We ask students to reflect and report on what they are learning based on the eight learning outcomes. The delivery of those reports—written, audio, video—is up to each student.”
At Colegio COPOL de Guayaquil, Mr. Hurtado uses a qualitative scale that is based on a student’s abilities and personal qualifications to interact and achieve personal goals. It also gauges the student’s awareness of social problems at the time of planning and during field work.
The value of creativity, action, service
Mr. Stewart noted that CAS can help students build confidence and learn the importance of balance. “If a student only studies all the time, he or she will not enjoy the balance of physical exercise, creative development, and interaction that CAS can bring.” He also commented on how CAS can build confidence by requiring students to go outside their comfort zones to explore new opportunities.
Mr. Hurtado added that students are enriched by the opportunity to “serve others and give back to the community.” He noted that many students are inspired to become part of a solution to the problems in their communities. “They learn that there is meaning in their lives.”
Mr. Hurtado summarized, “’CAS is the heart of the IB Diploma’ is not just a phrase; it’s brought to life when students discover that helping people involves feelings and emotions, and that it makes a person special in this world. This understanding will stay with the student for life."