How to do something in your life to make a change for someone else…
A conference where the delegates were as young as ten years old has had an inspiring effect on schools drawn together by a desire to help others… particularly children in Zambia. Neil Jones, Head of St Joseph’s In The Park, explains…
From time to time, something happens, in planning an event, that is greater and more successful than anticipated. More than the sum of its parts.
On the face of it, bringing together disparate groups of schools, from different locations (one who journeyed for two hours around the M25) of different ages (Years 5, 6, 7, 11 & 13) would appear to contradict any sense of structure and cohesion.
The first Hertford Youth Conference, last November, brought together six schools with representative groups from each, to share their experiences of developing Social Responsibility through collaboration. In addition, Jane Sartin, Hertford Town Councilor and former Mayor, was present to speak about her own personal journey that led to a life in public service.
Several of the schools work with the charity Beyond Ourselves, run by Jodie Collins, to raise money to support three community schools in the copperbelt region of Zambia: making visits, developing partnerships or participating in the sponsorship programme. The value of partnerships cannot be underestimated and whilst UK link school partnerships may never be truly equal, it is intended that the partnerships in Zambia and the UK will increase students’ global awareness. This awareness will challenge them to engage meaningfully with both local and global issues in a way that promotes life-long citizenship and responsibility for the communities they find themselves in.
The schools that attended differed, not only in the ages of the children and their locations, but also in their structure and approach:
Roding Valey High School is a co-educational community secondary school in Loughton, Essex. Their group consisted of Year 7 and 11 pupils. Their teacher has worked closely with Beyond Ourselves and has made several trips with pupils to Zambia.
Cranleigh School is a co-educational independent day and boarding school in Cranleigh, Surrey. A group of teachers and 6th Formers attended the conference and, as with Roding Valley, they have worked with Beyond Ourselves and made a number of visits to Zambia. They have played an integral part in supporting the Kawama Kraft social enterprise to support Kawama Community School.
Simon Balle School is a co-educational secondary school academy in Hertford, Hertfordshire. They comprised 6th formers and Year 7 and spoke about the structure of their school council, its integration across the school and the activities that they have undertaken to enhance the pupils’ experiences.
Abel Smith School is a co-educational primary school, again in Hertford. Their Year 5 and 6 school council members come along to speak on behalf of their school about how they put together creative and successful fund raising initiatives.
Stormont School is an independent girls prep school in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire. Their Year 5 pupils spoke about the range of fund raising activities that they have carried out and the causes they have supported.
St Joseph’s In The Park is a co-educational independent prep school, also in Hertford. My group outlined the role of the school council and what they were aiming to achieve through their activity at school. For example, last summer, the whole school, from Pre School to Junior 4 (Year 6) travelled varying distances on a sponsored walk. The walk raised enough money to send two members of staff to Zambia in the Autumn half term. By forging a physical link with the communities supported by Beyond Ourselves, Mrs Ash and Mrs Elson were able to bring back their experiences to share with our own community.
Further fund raising lead to the purchase of twenty pairs of shoes for one of the community schools. Our Infant classes sponsor a child and have regular updates from Beyond Ourselves about Gershom. Our Junior 4's plan and organise an annual Bring & Buy sale and cake stall. Groups of children take control of different categories of goods: books, toys for babies, games, etc. and collectively they have raised over £1,000 in the past two years.
The conference was arranged around the "Teachmeet" style of gathering, moving quickly with no-one speaking for more than about 10 minutes (young people or adults). There were questions for each group from the floor and a chance to "network" over tea and cake. It was designated a "conference" and we wanted to make it feel as though the "delegates" were there to both share and learn.
And this is where the inspiration started to become clear: the line between child and adult became blurred. We were interested in hearing from each delegate. They all had something interesting to say. They didn't have to speak for too long. There were a variety of experiences to be shared. They learned how to present effectively. There were differing perspectives and interesting and novel ideas to "take away". But there was one shared goal: to do something in your life to make a change.
And this caught the imagination of everyone present. The Year 5's wanted to hear about the older students' adventures. The 6th formers loved being with much younger children and even gathered some valuable ideas. The audience listened to the presenters and willed each group to be confident and do their best. The presenters, perhaps buoyed up by seeing others go before them or recognising that they didn't have to speak for too long, showed no nerves and were as confident and articulate as they could possibly be.
As I told them at the start: this first conference was going to be very experimental; we were stepping into unknown territory. However the outcome was quite exceptional. Having one shared purpose, with adults and young people all speaking to the idea about service, smudged the traditional dividing lines between the age groups. There was no "command and control"; we were all there to develop our understanding, to be inspired by others and share our own inspirations. It was magical.
And we will do it again next year!