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Service Learning for Sustainability in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

By Nicole Swedlow
Service Learning for Sustainability in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

High-School Service Day, embellishing and improving the campus of a local primary school, Nezahualcóyotl (photo: ASPV). _______________________________________________________________________ One of the most demanding aspects of modern education is the accelerated rate of change in the world and the challenge of guiding students in an atmosphere of division, mixed moral messages, and increasingly frequent natural disasters. There is clearly no right answer, no single solution, no expectation of resolving these challenges with an easy fix. Although the complexity of our era can at times feel frustrating, it also offers an opportunity to teach our students to better manage—even flourish and find opportunity in—these demanding times. In this spirit, the American School of Puerto Vallarta (ASPV) developed the Sustainability and Community Outreach department, to develop real opportunities that will allow students to get involved in caring for their community and their campus while giving them a grade-free opportunity to develop their passions, express their creativity, and nurture their capacity for compassion. The ASPV Sustainability Project uses the Compass Education model, which gives students a systems-thinking framework in which to define potential areas of improvement and inspires our staff and students to lead these initiatives. From launching recycling programs to achieving the elimination of plastic, Styrofoam, and straw use on campus, students and staff have worked hard to think systemically while encouraging behavior change. In addition to a focus on sustainability, ASPV has committed to doing a better job at preparing our students to be good citizens outside the walls of our school. Students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 have dedicated class time to working on collective community service projects, and all teachers are encouraged to participate alongside them. At the high school level, students are encouraged to engage in a Field Experience program, where they dedicate a semester to working with local nonprofits and businesses in an effort to gain professional experience and learn more about potential careers before choosing a major at college. All of these activities culminate in the annual Sustainability Fair, a schoolwide event that showcases student work. This year’s fair will be held in April, when an anticipated 1,000 guests from our school and surrounding community will come together in a festive atmosphere of celebration and recognition of the accomplishments achieved through collaboration. Although these programs have only just been launched at ASPV, it feels as though the entire school community is participating in incremental and conscious change, gathering momentum as we roll together towards substantial and sustainable new practices. l Nicole Swedlow is Sustainability and Community Outreach Coordinator at The American School of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

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