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One of the most exciting things about CAS is the fact that there are so many ways to engage with it. The sky really is the limit when it comes to finding innovative, eye-opening, and meaningful ways to explore Creativity, Activity, and Service. Of course, the challenges posed over the last year and a half meant that many adaptations needed to be made in order for CAS initiatives to adhere to health and safety regulations. Once again, though, our partners in IB schools rose to the occasion and continued to find ways to facilitate all the opportunities that make CAS so unique. To celebrate their successes and inspire others, we are taking the time to highlight how CAS is done in various schools around the world.  

This month, we are looking at Notre Dame, an international school in Paris, France. To better understand how their CAS program is run and how they adapted their approach during the pandemic, we had the pleasure of speaking with Marcy Zicari. 

A CAS Coordinator, IB Biology Teacher, and College Counselor, she was among the founding faculty for both the American high school section and the IB section at Notre Dame International High School. Service has always been important to her, and her approach to teaching is informed by a desire to find outlets for her students to engage with the local community. We talked to her about what makes Notre Dame special, how the pandemic has changed her appreciation of CAS, and the role reflection will play as we navigate the new normal.

As a founding member of the school and the IB program, you must have played a critical role in shaping how your school does CAS. What makes Notre Dame’s approach unique?

Our program is unique because we are located in a small town west of Paris, which forces our students to use their French to communicate with people from the community.  We have a network with the local Secour Catholique to collect and donate clothes, and we help in the community garden. We also work with a local food pantry called Nouvel Espoir. Because we are located on a French school campus, the students from the high school occasionally work on projects in the science labs together. 

This offers students a new opportunity to collaborate with the students locally and learn new techniques and scientific concepts.  Afterward, students will reflect on their experience—sometimes as a group—other times as a voice recording or video. We try to provide many options so students can find what works best for them. 

Notre Dame International High School

That has certainly been an important strategy over the last year and a half! How has the format of your teaching (more generally) or CAS (specifically) changed over the pandemic?  

During the past year, we have become more flexible as a school in order to help students incorporate new ways of doing CAS.  As we could not go out into the public as much, students organized a small Model United Nations conference on campus. They collected money and bought a sewing machine and overlocker to learn how to sew—with the help of some teachers.  They also learned how to embroider.  Everyone would sit together during the lunch hour and work on different projects. It was about finding new ways to feel connected.

Has the pandemic altered your understanding of what CAS has to offer students?  What have been some of the biggest challenges? 

The pandemic has made me see the CAS potential in many more places and activities than before, as the focus is on the learning outcomes and reflections. The most challenging is getting students to reflect in ways that make it more fun for them.  Group reflections are an excellent way to have them really delve into topics and have a dynamic conversation.  They realize how much they actually got out of different CAS experiences.

Has the pandemic offered any opportunities when it comes to CAS and education more broadly?  

Unfortunately, the pandemic has lowered our enrollment. However, with fewer students our teaching staff now benefit from a better student-to-teacher ratio for conversations and learning, as well as in-depth reflection. I think that in some ways our community has become stronger as a result of having gone through this experience together. 

Many thanks to Mrs. Zicari and the whole community at Notre Dame for their participation! Please stay tuned for future articles highlighting how CAS happens in schools around the world.