IB students are called to community action: In St. Paul Harding’s CAS program, IB seniors design, execute and serve

Skyler Kuczaboski headshot
Skyler Kuczaboski, St. Paul Harding High School

ST. PAUL HARDING SENIOR Zena Vue came across St. Jude’s, a hospital in Memphis, Tenn., whose main source of income is donations, while researching for a fundraising project for student council.

Vue and Augustine Vega, a fellow Harding senior and International Baccalaureate diploma candidate, decided to partner and organize a T-shirt fundraising project and support St. Jude’s through Create, Action, Serve (CAS), a program in which IB students come up with their own project, researching it and organizing it independently.

The 18-month program has to be completed during an IB student’s senior year.

“It’s really important to make people feel connected by helping others,” Vue said. “[CAS is] more related to the community and you really have to step it up because you’re the owner of yourself and you have to plan everything.”

CAS encourages students to become more vocalized leaders in their community and to try something new.

Augustine Vega headshot
Augustine Vega, St. Paul Harding High School senior

“It’s one of the main components of the IB diploma program,” said Jayson Spence, CAS coordinator and a Spanish teacher at Harding. “It involves [getting] diploma candidate students to start thinking about how they can find balance in their lives, between their hectic schedules and all their studies and testing, to still find outlets for creativity.”

Harding is one of three IB World Schools in St. Paul, according to the school. Starting at Harding in 1993, the IB program includes rigorous, academically challenging studies that help students prepare for college.

CAS was developed to provide options for students to strive for balance with a rigorous curriculum. About 3.3 million U.S. high school students are expected to graduate in the 2015–2016 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Of those students, 2.4 percent are IB diploma candidates.

“It’s for kids to go out and do something they haven’t done before,” said Spence. “… Go out and volunteer somewhere, and then through these experiences, you start to discover your own strengths.”

Jayson Spence headshot
Jayson Spence, CAS coordinator and a Spanish teacher at Harding

“Go out and volunteer somewhere, and then through these experiences, you start to discover your own strengths.” – Jayson Spence, CAS coordinator

In order to graduate, students at Harding are required to volunteer for 12 hours during their four years. IB diploma students can volunteer through their CAS project.

“I try not to make more of a burden on them,” said Spence. “… They’re planning on going to a four-year college, probably getting a doctorate, hopefully, and they usually have some kind of aspiration for themselves.”

While balancing student council for Vue, and other extracurriculars in Vega’s case, and completing
 many hours of homework
 each night, the students
 still have time to give back
through CAS.

“CAS projects can be 
pretty broad, and then 
we ended up looking for
donation type [of projects],” said Vega. “We ended up deciding for St. Jude’s and the T-shirt thing because it’s something we’ve never done before and it’s … pretty interesting.”

CAS differs from typical
 class projects, which are
 assigned to students rather than created by students. It involves independent research and decision-making, which is expected from seniors in the IB program.

“It’s a creative, active, service-oriented outlet,” said Spence. “That’s what the whole experience is really about.”

In the past, students have put on performances through a newly created glee club to raise money for an international cause.

CAS students are required to keep a journal and reflect on their project and themselves. The goal is to help students identify their strengths and weaknesses.

“It shows how they plan, implement [and] reflect,” Spence said. “Through this experience they learn, and the next time they do this they’re more prepared.”

CAS can be a guide to self-discovery for IB students who juggle extracurriculars, classes, tests and other obstacles in their lives.

IB students work on their CAS projects during advisory, a class similar to homeroom that every Harding student attends two days a week. Spence oversees and guides their process for completing their project.

“I don’t think any other advisory talks about how you can balance your 
life and social life,” said Spence. “I think it all focuses on balance and self-discovery.”