Volunteering creates resilient student community

Issue: Volume 98, Number 8

Posted: 15 May 2019
Reference #: 1H9u9J

The Student Volunteer Army has widened its scope to deliver a volunteer programme for secondary schools, recognising and encouraging a culture of civic service in New Zealand’s young people.

A new badge programme led by the Student Volunteer Army (SVA) aims to boost volunteer activity through recording a student’s service throughout their time at school.

Co-designed by 30 secondary school students from around New Zealand, the five levels in the programme range from a member level designed for students who have completed a one-off volunteering activity to higher-achievement badges that target students who are engaging in meaningful and sustained volunteering.

Last year the SVA, as part of its SVA Schools programme, facilitated volunteer projects for over 32,000 children in Years 1–8 through the distribution of its free Project Management Guide for classrooms.

The guide was designed for teachers after SVA received an overwhelming response from principals wanting to bring student-led volunteering into their classrooms. This year SVA is broadening its scope to target students in Years 9–13.

Building resilience

Student Volunteer Army founder Sam Johnson says that at its heart the programme is about resilience.

“There was a UN report on resilience last year, and one of the things that was found was that volunteering is the single most powerful force that builds resilience across the board,” he says.

In particular the report highlights how the connections built between people who are volunteering strengthen trust and social cohesion in a community, and build the ability to self-organise as a group. The report finds this to be pivotal in creating a resilient community, comprised of individuals who can spontaneously work together without relying on outside agents to facilitate cooperation.

“The important part is that it’s student led. The students have to come up with the volunteer ideas. We can guide them but we don’t tell them what to do, so they come up with their own projects. They execute their projects, they report on them and they learn from them.”

Sam says that many young people, such as those caring for those living with a disability or elderly relatives, are already working as volunteers without realising it.

Recognising this volunteer activity and creating a transcript of it throughout secondary school therefore serves to boost a young person’s awareness of their ability to mobilise to effect positive change, as well as mapping their service and the skills they develop along the way.

Real life application

“We want to teach focused skills,” says Sam. “Coming out of university, no one teaches project management; no one teaches how to ‘work together’, so we want to actually use volunteering principles to teach these skills. That’s why we expanded our system that is used by people at the University of Canterbury and are enabling it to be used by other young people.”

Sam says that SVA Schools ties in to the values of participation, community and respect through encouraging students to get involved with their community and engage on an equal footing with people they have previously not spent time with.

“A lot of it is not necessarily about what they do, it’s about doing things and then critically reflecting on what that work has meant to them. Maybe it meant that they felt better about themselves, they understood how a community works and they made a new friend with someone they thought they didn’t like. That’s all a great outcome for us.”

Projects conducted by students through SVA Schools include a campaign launched by West Spreydon School to ensure the elderly in their community felt included, as well as a planting project conducted by Matamata Intermediate along a riverbank in their local farming community.

“We’d been looking into doing some planting in our region, and we got an email from SVA saying that this was something they were supporting, and that really spurred us on,” says Matamata Intermediate School teacher Karen Nichols.

“Inquiry [for this subject] had to be about actual action, not just learning how something works,” she says.

Matamata Intermediate Student Simone Woolliams says that the project helped her realise that there were less barriers to action that she’d previously thought.

“I think because we volunteered it gave us the knowledge that you don’t have to make money or receive a payment to make an impact on the environment around us,” she says.

“If you put your mind towards something you can achieve it.”

It’s been shown that young people who engage in volunteering are three times more likely to participate in volunteering later in life, compared with children who do not volunteer in these years.

SVA plans to support the increasing interest in student-led volunteering initiatives by supporting an estimated 20,000 secondary school students through the new badge initiative in 2019, as well as growing engagement with primary-age children in the SVA Schools programme.

Feedback about the SVA Service Award has been positive. A group of Heads of Sport identified several roles in school sport that often go unrecognised and several community organisations have also shared their excitement that the award recognises the actions of young volunteers in front of their peers at an assembly or similar which encourages others to volunteer. The service record component of the awards means students can track the work they actually do.

Further information and an information packs can be requested from SVA Service Award(external link)

See also the United Nations Volunteerism report on resilience(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 2:02 pm, 15 May 2019

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