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The pandemic has brought its share of hardships, but through it all, we have been grateful to be a part of the IB community and to benefit from all the inspiration and solidarity it provides. Our goal at CAS Trips has always been to find new and innovative ways to bring the CAS experience to life and be a force of good in the lives of those we engage with. 

To help us articulate how schools, teachers, and students are currently experiencing CAS, we spoke with two members of Hillel Academy in Kingston, Jamaica. From a student’s and a CAS Coordinator’s perspective, we sought to discover how CAS has evolved throughout the pandemic and what kind of support learners and educators need to make the most of this fundamental IB component going forward.  

Venisa Linton is a CAS Coordinator at Hillel Academy. We talked with her about how the pandemic has helped her embrace technology, draw inspiration from her students, and where she thinks added resources could deliver the most value. 

CAS can be such an uplifting experience for students but can quickly turn frustrating when there are so many obstacles to overcome. How has your approach to CAS changed due to the pandemic?

I’ve been focused on reminding students that taking the initiative and giving back can be an empowering tool in finding a personal anchor and a feeling of security in these uncertain times. I became an even greater motivator, as some students found it difficult to conceptualize CAS while at home. The pandemic has pushed me from my traditional mindset to become open to the new possibilities that are available. The internet and social media became my close friend, and I found blogs and websites (such as CAS Trips) that offered suggestions and tips on approaching CAS during these difficult times. 

Has the pandemic altered your understanding of what CAS has to offer students?

It has helped me realize that CAS can play a crucial role in assisting students to overcome some of life’s complex challenges. While participating in CAS, students can learn how to continue moving forward in the face of adversity. CAS can help students better take on new challenges, be reflective, learn to persevere, and develop better interpersonal skills. CAS can be transformational as students become well-rounded global citizens.

What has been the most challenging and rewarding part of your CAS experiences over the last year?

The most rewarding part of CAS during this pandemic is seeing students become resilient and persevering despite the difficulties they are facing. Students also show great care and empathy for the community’s plight, finding creative and innovative ways to raise awareness and give back to the community in meaningful ways. 

One of the most challenging parts of CAS during the pandemic is ensuring continued social interactions in a meaningful way.  After months of being deprived of physical interactions, getting students to buy into online conferences and activities can be challenging. As CAS coordinator, I had to find creative ways to encourage continued participation and interactions. However, students still struggle with balancing academics and CAS, which needs to be explored and discussed further to find creative solutions for students. Finding that balance is critical if students are to excel and thrive.

Amanda Rodriquez is a student at Hillel Academy. The pandemic coincided with her entrance into 12th grade and her first encounter with CAS and the IB. We spoke to her about the transition to online learning, discovering the potential of CAS, and where she turns for motivation. 

What has CAS come to mean to you over the last year? 

Going into the year, hardly knowing what CAS was, it is now something that I smile at when I think about. As cliche as it is to say, it has empowered me. What CAS has to offer students is a form of limitless ideas and opportunities. Through CAS, students can channel ideas they may have had rolling around in bed at 2 am, or a spark of inspiration from a YouTube video they watched. CAS creates this wonderful relationship between a student’s passion and a method of putting those passions into solid, achievable projects that will stick with them even after CAS is no longer required of them. 

It sounds like you’re off to a great start! What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered in meeting your CAS goals?

Easily, the most challenging part of my CAS experiences over the past year is finding the drive just to keep going. The pandemic, and all its effects, leaves me often demotivated and stressed and downright exhausted. As a result of all that, I have found it difficult on numerous occasions to get up, write those reflections, send off those emails, etc. But then I remember the reward at the end of it. I remember people messaging me after a panel discussion on My Freedom Day telling me how much they learned and how inspired they are. 

It is so essential to maintain sources of motivation during this time. How do you think the last 12 months have changed you?

The pandemic has allowed me to further develop my ability to adapt to new, strange, and in this particular case, unwelcome changes—and how to thrive once adapted. The pandemic has allowed me to learn from people I otherwise may not have ever gotten to (for example, my incredible team members from both the VCCs I attended!). The pandemic has offered a lot in those regards.

A big thank you to Amanda and Venisa for sharing their experience and helping us understand how we can better support students and schools to realize their best CAS outcomes! Find out more about our CAS Induction Workshops here. 

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