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An essential component of the IB DP, the CAS Project plays a significant role in developing well-rounded, compassionate individuals who can positively impact their community and the world. A collaborative, well-considered series of sequential CAS Experiences, engaging students in one or more of the CAS strands of Creativity, Activity, and Service, the CAS Project is a chance for students to venture outside their comfort zone and dive deep into something they are passionate about

That said, students also need thoughtful guidance throughout the process to realize their project to its full potential. Today, we have the pleasure of sharing some insight from Sarah Lalaz, a CAS Coordinator and counselor at The International School of Geneva (La Châtaigneraie). Over her career, Ms. Lalaz has worked as an English teacher, psychology teacher and a teacher of learning support. She eventually combined her role of counselor with the role of CAS Coordinator at Ecolint’s La Châtaigneraie campus because she loves the bridge it provides between the school and the broader community. 

Having helped to facilitate many successful projects, she shares her thoughts on the importance of a detailed plan, how to facilitate productive collaboration that ensures a long-term impact, and what she thinks makes a CAS Project stand out. Her advice is a valuable addition to any CAS Coordinator or advisor’s toolkit in helping their students make the most of their CAS Project, and we are delighted to present it here!

Understand the potential of the CAS Project

The first thing Sarah reminds us is to be aware of just how powerful the CAS Project can be. 

“The CAS Project is an incredibly valuable component of the IB DP. In my experience, as many IB students are already involved in many activities, the CAS portfolio is often fairly straightforward. They are already participating in groups and clubs, and are out in the community — so it is not hard to meet the requirements. 

The CAS Project, on the other hand, is where students really have a chance to grow. They collaborate in a team and are forced to take things one step further and try to do something extra special. 

I explain to students that the CAS Project is like the Extended Essay of their CAS portfolio. This is where you should be putting in your effort— not only can it upskill them in ways they could never have imagined, but it is also great for university applications. 

I try to help students understand the purpose of the CAS Project and how it fits into the broader aims of the IB DP. The CAS Project is an opportunity for students to explore their passions and interests while positively impacting their community. In addition, it gives young people a chance to showcase their skills and demonstrate their capabilities.”

Plan for success using the five stages of CAS 

To do so, though, students need to take the time to plan their projects carefully. When Ms. Lalaz took over as CAS Coordinator, she got serious about building a clear framework for students to approach the CAS project. 

“When I became CAS Coordinator, there were not a lot of measurements in place when it came to the CAS Project, and I think it made it difficult both for students and the CAS advisors. Without guidelines, kids were not as open to being pushed into different strands.

To help remedy this, I decided I would take charge of the CAS Project. I have since created forms and have each student fill in a CAS 5 Stages planning document, which I then review and approve or contact them to discuss details if necessary. Often, I see something with a lot of potential that needs some added components or would benefit from including a mentor to guide them who is already active on the issue. Then, once they have this missing ingredient, they can make it something extraordinary and really have it take off. 

Undoubtedly, kids can do amazing things, but you have to meet them where they are at the time. I think it is essential for CAS Coordinators to come equipped with their own set of creative ideas to exist alongside those put forth by the students. A finely honed skill set is necessary to implement a successful CAS Project, and if left entirely to their own devices, we soon see that students simply have not yet been taught some of the necessary skills they require. 

Of course, the Project is always guided by students, but I believe they also need an adult mentor to help guide them along and to help and encourage them to stick to their plan.”

Help students collaborate effectively 

Facilitating student collaboration is another essential role CAS Coordinators play in supporting the CAS project. Students must work in groups or teams, which can help them share ideas and resources and create a more significant impact on their community. However, group work can also present challenges like disagreements or conflicts. As a CAS coordinator, Ms. Lalaz helps students navigate these challenges and find ways to work together effectively.

“For me, collaboration and accountability go hand in hand. Again, avoiding trouble in this area has a lot to do with planning. If everyone knows their roles from the get-go, there is little confusion and room for debate if things go sideways later.”

Ensure that a specific need has been identified

And, of course, ensuring that the CAS project addresses a specific need and has a long-term impact is crucial for the project’s success. At Ecolint, Sarah encourages her students to think critically about the effects of their project and how it can create lasting change in their community. As she explains, 

“This may involve partnering with local organizations or non-government agencies to address systemic issues impacting the community. By thinking about what they want their project to mean for the future, students can develop a sense of agency and responsibility for creating positive change in the world.”

Create a solid foundation that can continue to support new ideas

Tied to this notion of ensuring impact, Sarah also believes in celebrating her student’s success and helping them build on one another’s accomplishments. 

“Each year, we have had some great projects that I want to feature because I am so impressed. Next year I would like to award two end-of-year prizes, one for the best CAS portfolio and one for the CAS Project as I believe they demonstrate two different skill sets which should both be celebrated.

Over this year, for example, we have several CAS projects that stood out. One was our Community Faces project. Here, we wanted to focus on inclusion, and I encouraged the student to value the existing resources without our school community. The team selected various members from our broader school community to highlight. They worked with the art department to learn how to take portraits, then were taught how to conduct interviews. The portraits are now linked to their edited interviews via QR codes and displayed, so viewers can ‘listen to the story behind the smile.’

Other outstanding projects include a video and fundraising campaign initiated by Gordon Clifford who suffered a traumatic brain injury via a skiing accident and spent two months in a coma. He was brave in telling his story and getting the community involved to better understand his experience. In addition he was instrumental in raising over 50,000 CHF to enable other young people to get access to the same resources he had access and to and maximize their chance for the best recovery possible.

A final project I must mention is Football4Impact. It aims to unite young people from different nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds through their mutual love of the sport of football to train and work together to navigate key aspects of life and football from mental health to financial literacy. 

This project was wonderful to watch because it started with three friends disillusioned with school and needing more drive to achieve. Yet once they all realized they could take something they loved and turn it into a way to help others, they all got super involved in this project. I have seen a tremendous evolution in the character of the participants. 

Ultimately, all these projects empower students to share their unique talents and show them that they can do something they did not even know was possible. I believe in student agency, and the CAS Project is one area where kids can choose what they want to do. You can act as a facilitator and push them out of their comfort zone to achieve something genuinely empowering.” 

We could not agree more! A big thank you to Sarah for taking the time to discuss her tips and best practices for the CAS Project. 

We share her belief in the transformative potential of this fundamental part of the IB experience, and that is why we host our annual CAS Project Challenge, which gives students a chance to win a trip to one of our 2024 Global Student Conferences! We are now accepting submissions, and you can find all details here.