As part of the Thursday afternoon activities programme, members of the Lower Sixth have the opportunity to offer help in the local community. Some of them visit the residents of local residential care homes; some help in local primary schools; some help with local charitable institutions, such as the Shrewsbury Ark (a drop-in centre that helps homeless and vulnerable people); others visit local people who, for whatever reason, are in need of a little support.
The commitment is for the whole of the Lower Sixth year. However, it is often the case that such strong relationships are forged that our pupils will continue with their visits throughout their Shrewsbury career.
Comments from some of our pupils:
"The chance to communicate with people who are not familiar can be challenging; but it has helped me to be more patient with others and I now understand the importance of just having someone to listen to you."
"I have seen first hand the problems associated with ageing – trivial things have become so cumbersome for them that they need assistance, which makes helping them a fulfilling task. I feel I have brightened up the afternoon for some of the residents."
"Spending just a little time helping others makes a big difference."
"I realise that seven-year-olds are closer to you than you think!"
Case study: volunteering at a local primary school
I volunteered as a teaching assistant in St Winefride’s Convent School. I decided to undertake community service on a Thursday afternoon as a means to fulfilling one of the criteria for my Gold Duke of Edinburgh's Award. However, I enjoyed it so much that even after completing this part of the Award I decided to continue assisting the class for the next academic year.
My role was to assist the teacher of a Year 4 class. There were 25 children in the class to whom I became quite attached by the end of my time there! My involvement with them went across the curriculum – helping with anything from reading and maths to more creative, practical tasks such as music and art. I thoroughly enjoyed this variety, and it was fascinating to observe the different methods that the teachers employed in order to communicate effectively with such a large group of children. I was also very interested to observe the way that different children responded to a wide variety of teaching styles and subjects. The Head Teacher of the school would often visit us during lesson time. She was particularly welcoming and grateful for the help of placement students at the school; we were made to really feel like a useful part of a warm and friendly environment.
As time went on and I had forged strong relationships with staff and pupils, I was given the opportunity to undertake progressively more challenging tasks; these ranged from marking pieces of work that the children had completed to supervising the class while the teacher was absent. It was so interesting to be on the other side of the classroom experience and it is partly this that has inspired my choices of further study and employment. I am now undertaking a gap year in Shrewsbury School, Bangkok before taking up my place at Durham University next year to read Education and English.”
Case study: volunteering at the Shrewsbury Ark
Every Thursday afternoon, two of us make our way down to the Shrewsbury Ark – a day centre for the homeless. We address envelopes, sort clothes and put hundreds of tins of baked beans in date order. In short, whilst surprisingly satisfying voluntary work, it isn't the saving-damsels-in-distress charity that I'd half hoped for.
Why, when I might be doing any number of other things, would I trek to the opposite side of Shrewsbury for a decidedly unglamorous afternoon? I suppose some of the motivation is a selfish desire to be seen as a generally “good chap”. Close to the heart of it is a sense of real obligation to keep my feet on the ground. I am too quick to throw my toys out of the pram when an exam goes wrong or the KH ketchup dispenser is empty. To see, and help, those who have nothing puts my pathetic worries into perspective and prompts me to consider what I actually have. As crass and moralising as this might sound, to routinely pop the 'Salopian Bubble' is desperately important. At the heart of my motivation (such as it is!) are the powerful words of Jesus in Matthew 25: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."