- High School
CAS stands for Creativity, Activity, and Service. It is an 18-month supplemental program designed to help students balance the rigorous academic demands of the DP, and required in order to win the IB Diploma.
As part of their exit from the CAS program, every senior recently sat with their Advisor and the CAS Coordinator for an informal 15-minute chat known as the final interview. Most students were ready to be done with CAS, relieved that they had passed another milestone in their school journey (not just done with CAS, they are also done with the Core!), but still reminisced on the highlights and lowlights of the journey.
CAS As Well Being
If I didn’t do CAS in school I wouldn’t have done anything - I wouldn’t have gotten involved in school life nearly as much.
One of the constant frustrations of the Diploma program is that there is never enough time, and while some students struggled to keep up with CAS, others were grateful for the opportunity that CAS presented in that it forced them to carve out some time in their busy schedules for their hobbies and other activities they enjoy. As one student put it, “CAS made me spend more time on the things that I wouldn’t have spent time on, things that I wanted to do or things that are beneficial for me that I make excuses for (such as how I don’t have enough time). It helps you prioritize parts of your life that are meaningful to you and healthy for you”. Many students commented on the importance of hobbies and how they bring balance to life which helps with overall well-being. One student said that one of the most important lessons for her was “the realization that I need to do things other than studying. The Activity strand got me off my laptop - up and moving and doing something fun. It was a huge stress-buster.”
The balance between the strands was important for students. One student said, “I don’t think I would have played piano or volunteered for JCS if not for CAS. I would have focused more on Activity through my sports. I did [Piano] before, but would have given it up if not for CAS - sticking it out revived my love of Piano and I think I will continue later.” Another said that they wouldn’t normally consider themselves an artistic person, but that “having a creative outlet was really inspiring and healthy for me, so I will definitely try to continue that.”
Many students liked the potential CAS offered to do so many different activities; to have a variety of experiences, try new things, find new hobbies, meet new people, and just generally get involved. As one student put it, “If I didn’t do CAS in school I wouldn’t have done anything - I wouldn’t have gotten involved in school life nearly as much.”
Reflections, Reflections, Reflections
I talked about CAS in college essays as a way of introducing myself, and the reflections helped because they became a record of my challenges and feelings
Unsurprisingly, the documentation side of the CAS program (collecting evidence and writing reflections) was cited as the biggest frustration throughout the course. Managebac was not always as efficient as we would like it to be, and neither were the students. Many students occasionally forgot to upload their work on a regular monthly basis and therefore fell behind, which made it harder to catch up. One of the top tips that the seniors had for the younger students was to keep up with their reflections, and many offered advice on how to go about doing that (keeping a good doc with notes, setting an alarm in the calendar for the end of the month, etc.).
Perhaps surprisingly, given student’s relief at being done with reflections, the vast majority of seniors told us that they found the reflection process helpful in retrospect. Many students discussed the benefits of reflection; how it helped them to improve rapidly by reflecting on strengths and weaknesses and how inspiring and helpful it was to see their progress and growth (especially when writing the summative reflections). One student said that it helped her to take time out and “reflect on everything I am doing as a whole rather than living moment-to-moment, running from deadline to deadline”. Another said that it was “nice to reflect on your hobbies. Reminding yourself of your hobbies and passions and putting it into words helps me appreciate it and express it to myself and others”. One student simply said that “reflecting made what I was doing have more meaning”.
Many seniors commented that the reflections seemed like a lot of work, but really actually weren't that bad, especially once you establish a routine. One student said that “I was already used to doing the logs from DOE and [CAS] was a nice continuation of that.”
Students said that not only did the CAS reflections help with university applications (“I talked about CAS in college essays as a way of introducing myself, and the reflections helped because they became a record of my challenges and feelings”) but they learned more about themselves and the skills that they gained. One said “one of my biggest CAS wins was figuring out my weaknesses” and that “life is so fast-paced and the reflections gave me time to slow down and plan things properly and think about my growth fully.”
Giving and Receiving
The CAS project was a big win for me; it involved other people, it was fun, collaborative, forced me out of my comfort zone, and taught me a bit about conflict resolution.
Many students found their service activities to be the most rewarding part of the program. This cohort was severely impacted by the lack of in-person Service opportunities brought about by covid restrictions as nursing homes, daycares, dog shelters and other venues at which students have traditionally volunteered remained closed. We hope that those entering the program now will have more opportunities as Japan continues to open up.
However, there were still many worthwhile initiatives undertaken and important lessons gained. Many students spoke about realizing how important volunteering is; how little things that we can do can make an impact on a larger scale. One student said, “I realized that I really enjoy helping people, teaching people, taking care of people. That's why I joined tutoring and SASA”. Another said that “it felt really good to help people - everyone should be helping out all the time.”
Working with Others
Students generally enjoyed the opportunity to discuss CAS within their homeroom. Since their homeroom teacher was their CAS advisor it was often discussed during advisor check-ins and also during peer check-ins. One student commented, “everyone was doing CAS at the same time, learning from each other, keeping each other on track, reflecting with peers especially during homeroom and it was motivating to have a community in CAS”. Some students found their relationship with their supervisors fruitful and meaningful, especially with sports and music coaches. One student told a story about having a jam session with their supervisor on their guitars and how it became one of her most memorable Seisen memories. One student said “it was nice to receive feedback from teachers though I did work with some teachers more closely than others.” Others felt a lack of connection with their supervisors, especially for activities that they carried out individually or at home, and recommended that the younger classes do more advisor and supervisor check-ins.
Some students faced real-world struggles when working with others, such as finding time to collaborate, waiting on others to respond, encountering differences of opinions, and other such situations that students can expect to encounter in the workplace. However, more of them commented on how beneficial it was working with new people, especially underclassmen, teachers, community members, and students at other schools. One student said “the CAS project was a big win for me; it involved other people, it was fun, collaborative, forced me out of my comfort zone, and taught me a bit about conflict resolution.” Many students made new friends within and outside of Seisen, friendships that have already outlasted the various clubs and initiatives that forged them. One student said that “the most enjoyable part of CAS was that I could have time with other people” and another said that 5 years from now, “I am most going to remember the people I met through CAS”.
What We Gained
I realized the need to be persistent with activities. Consistency is key; if I work on something for a long period of time I can get better at it.
We asked every student how CAS is going to help them post-Seisen, and students gave us a long list of things that they felt would carry forward. Many students said that they would make a point of keeping up with some of the “stuff that all good humans need to do”; life skills such as staying fit and cooking. Others said that they would like to continue with individual experiences past high school such as table tennis, pottery, creative writing, volleyball, etc. Many said they would try to find clubs in university to meet people and continue some of these activities.
Quite a few students said that they learned new skills through CAS experiences such as coding/programming, debate, design skills (graphic design, advertising), and leadership skills that they may use in their future majors or careers. Students also made direct connections to the Learning Outcomes and the soft skills they gained. For example, one student said in connection with Learning Outcome 4 (Commitment and Perseverance) that they realized the need “to be persistent with activities. Consistency is key; if I work on something for a long period of time I can get better at it”. Another said that “CAS helped me to step outside of my comfort zone and take leadership of things; I was able to gain a bit more confidence”.
We were so pleased to hear how much our seniors gained from the experience of undertaking CAS and how much fun they had. We wish them all the best with their ongoing journeys and hope that they take the spirit of CAS to heart as a life-long habit of making time for activities that give them purpose, meaning, balance, health and fulfillment.
For more information about what CAS is, please visit the CAS @ Seisen Site.