By Nick Yates, ISB Communications
The walls of Rosalyn Gillund's office at the International School of Beijing (ISB) are covered almost floor to ceiling with photos illustrating her 22 years in service learning at the school. The retiring High School English teacher has been a driving force behind programs that have seen students volunteer and raise money for numerous charities. The photos show High Schoolers playing mahjong with residents of a nursing home. The elderly couple who married after meeting at the home and invited their young ISB companions out for a wedding lunch. The migrant workers' child who has become a lasting friend of Ms. Gillund and her husband after he started visiting their home for English lessons.
At ISB, knowledge and skills are considered vital, but teachers know that at least as important as those knowledge and skills are character development and a commitment to serving others. ISB has built up a strong service-learning program through involvement with international charities and local organizations. Doing so has taken decades. Over that time, Ms. Gillund has been tireless in promoting students giving back, and she has witnessed how the service-learning program has developed as more people have recognized its role in education.
"We all learn something [from service]" she says. "We are humbled by it and made willing to consider other valuable skills in life. We may not have much to contribute, but basic human communication does develop. No matter what obstacles there are, something always comes through, whether it's a pull on your sleeve or a smile. Most students respond to that."
Ms. Gillund has been keen for students to help people in need and interact with less privileged groups ever since she arrived at ISB in 1996. As China's charity sector and social welfare have matured, she has worked to forge ties with charities and get students access to safe places where they can serve others while learning.
She says the first place they were welcomed to was a hospice. The school invited the lead doctor at the facility to a fund-raising performance. "They wanted to recognize Dr. Li Wei's work and present him with some money that had been raised, but it was also more to bring him into the community of ISB to see if other connections could be established."
The approach worked and more small local charities started accepting ISB students to visit. These have included New Hope Foundation, for sick babies; Sun Village, a foster home for children whose parents are in prison; Love and Hope Center, devoted to the education of underprivileged children and rural women; and the Tianlong Retirement Home.
ISB is also involved with international charities like Roots & Shoots, which brings together young people to work on environmental, conservation and humanitarian issues; and housing NGO Habitat for Humanity.
ISB has never been more committed to service learning than now, at the point at which Ms. Gillund is leaving. Her involvement with charity goes further back than her time in Beijing. At her previous school, in Karachi, Pakistan, she cooperated with groups for disadvantaged children. "One time, we set a bag of garbage on a heap and a little girl thanked us for it," the US citizen remembers. "It was a stark reminder of how close we can be to people who really need our help. That's why when I came [to Beijing] I was particularly interested in service."
She became the school's Creativity, Action, Service (CAS) Coordinator just a few years after she joined ISB. It wasn't necessarily such a charity-focused brief, but, she explains, "Part of my job, I felt, was to develop these charity opportunities, especially as places opened up a bit. It's hard not to get involved."
Ms. Gillund is one of two CAS Coordinators at ISB, and another member of staff will move to fill the retiree's position. The school has also shown its commitment to further improving this area by appointing a dedicated service-learning coordinator for next academic year.
Ms. Gillund might be off for a well-earned rest, but service learning at ISB remains in good hands.