Who: The University of York Community and Volunteering Unit (CAVU), within the Careers Service, working with York Cares, a registered charity promoting employee-volunteering in the city of York.
What: Designing and delivering teaching modules based around themes such as Transport or Cookery to primary schools pupils.
Why: The Kids College aims to excite children about education by linking real life and learning.
Where: Primary schools in an area of economic disadvantage where the pupils are at risk of disengaging from traditional education methods.
When: Ongoing since October 2009, with each project taking place over two academic terms, one planning and one for delivery.
The York Cares Kids College aims to excite children about education by linking real life and learning focusing particularly on children living in areas of economic disadvantage and at risk of disengaging from traditional education. Working with a broad range of stakeholders including businesses, academics and school teachers, student volunteers design and deliver a series of modules around a theme such as Transport or Cookery, engaging with local primary schools, targeted to the 7-11 age range. Each module lasts up to ten weeks, and includes a range of classroom activities leading up to a ‘Golden Moment’ such as a trip on the railways or a ‘Come Dine with Me’ cookery event.
The project establishes and utilises relationships with a broad range of stakeholders including:
- York Cares (a registered charity promoting employee-volunteering in the city of York) which supplied a number of business partners, including Northern Rail and the York Marriott Hotel;
- Academic departments including Social Policy and Education which provided expertise in working with communities and developing school programmes.
The aim is that these modules will become ‘off- the- shelf’ packages, to be used as an extension to the York Students in Schools programme, to ensure they become a sustainable part of the volunteering opportunities available at the University, and continue to develop community relations in an area close to the campus.
- Stimulating children’s interest in and capacity for learning through programmes which link real life and the learning, complementing the University’s widening participation strategy through activities which raise both awareness and attainment of children living in areas of economic disadvantage.
- Providing students with a rich and unique learning experience through opportunities for collaboration with leading employers, academic departments and schools.
- Generating new long-term opportunities for students and employees to volunteer together and share their unique expertise with children ‘at risk.’
- Developing the blue print for the Kids College, based on the nationally recognised Children’s University model, which will provide a mechanism for the University of York and local employers to maximise their impact on one of York’s most disadvantaged communities.
Results and outcomes
What worked well
This project has been built upon the strength of the partnerships, with businesses, academic departments, schools and the university. These connections, which span across the community, have proved invaluable, as it has brought a richer creative mix to the projects and greater scope of opportunities due to the breadth of resources.
The ‘Golden Moments’
The transport module’s day trip on the trains and the ‘Come Dine With Me’ event of the cookery module physically brought together the community, including the businesses, students and schools. These supported the work and activities carried out in the classroom, bringing them to life in the wider world. The impacts of these moments were really quite surprising in how successful they were to achieving our goals and providing a unique experience for those involved, giving students and children the opportunity to rub shoulders with people from the business world.
"Learning outside the classroom is so valuable - it brings a topic to life and gives it real meaning. Being taught about train travel from a textbook wouldn’t have generated as much enthusiasm as actually being on the station platform announcing train departures and arrivals! The children loved every minute and it was so rewarding to see them enjoying ‘education.’" Business Volunteer
"The trip was the exceptional part of the project for all involved. We were able to bring everyone who worked on the project together and create the fun atmosphere we wanted this project to have. Personally it made me realise the impact of the volunteering I was doing, and really transformed my experience, allowing me to feel part of the community of York rather than just being part of the university environment." Student volunteer
The Student-led Approach
These modules were designed and delivered by student teams, who worked from a creative brief, which emerged as a result of generating ideas between schools and businesses before recruiting student volunteers.
Giving the students extra responsibility over the planning stages of the project ensured they were able to tailor the modules to reflect their talents and interests. Yet, this did require support to ensure the aims and objectives were met. A really successful technique for the project was to provide intensive support from the Community and Volunteering Unit near the start of the project, providing structure to the planning stages through a ‘Dragons Den’ style event. Pitching the project plans and being given input from those who are experts in critical thinking ensured the projects progressed. Secondly is has proven to be a useful tool in developing the partnerships with the businesses.
"It was a great experience to work with St Lawrence’s [Primary School], Marriott Hotel and York College. We had a lot of support from the outside as well as from inside of the department. This project is insightful and has great outcomes." Student Volunteer
"This project has been an excellent opportunity to get our students to put their academic learning into practice while giving something back to the local community." Education Studies Academic
"Now I understand that it isn't enough to just talk it up, if I want to get somewhere I’ve got to do better at school." 10 year old pupil, member of the traveller community
What didn't work well
As project leaders it was intended for student volunteers to manage the communications between the stakeholders for their project, and when successful this has produced excellent results, with lead volunteers on the transport module developing a good working relationship with the teacher and business volunteers.
This has shown that within these projects it is vital to have a volunteer acting as a point of contact for the businesses and schools, providing regular updates to develop trust between the partners and the students and ensure all involved are working towards the same goals. Similarly to keep the project managers informed of progress so support can be provided. For the students this is also an important role as it develops a sense of ownership over the module and encourages recognition of their responsibilities, which has proven to be a challenge of this project.
It is important when establishing partnerships to maintain a sense of realism as working with businesses, schools and academic departments adds another of layer complexity to developing a project. Numerous challenges have been faced as building the relationships between all those involved in the projects is initially tricky and success has relied upon a great deal of careful facilitation from the volunteer manager team. Especially at the start of the projects, in developing clear and achievable aims and objectives among all of the stakeholders, to ensure the resources of each were fully realised.
- Strong partnerships with businesses that are committed to working with the community to develop volunteering projects. The connection to York Cares, who provided links between the university and the businesses, has secured long term relationships with these partners, ensuring our project is sustainable and we can continue to offer these opportunities to our school partners.
- Investment of time by the volunteer co-ordinators particularly at the start of the project.
- Students who are prepared to take ownership and responsibility of a project, through part-time volunteering. Alongside a need for some one-off volunteers to assist with larger events, such as trips.
- Each student volunteer attended a half day event of team building and project management training. Following these pilot modules CAVU are developing a training programme to meet the support needed for participating students next academic year, including classroom management skills.
- Give everyone a very clear brief.
- Provide structure to the planning stages.
- Businesses and schools have a lot of time pressures, be clear of your idea when approaching them.
- Be flexible, know your overall aims but be able to vary the details.
- Communication is key! Create a key point of contact with schools and businesses and assign a role within the student groups. It is crucial that lines of communication between stakeholders remain open and constant so that the bonds of trust and understanding are maintained.
- Ensure students meet with all of the stakeholders at the beginning of the project, including the children. This aids students in realising the needs of their target audience and can provide great inspiration for project activities aiding students to establish a sense of responsibility for their project.
Name: Kate Harper
Name of organisation: University of York (Community and Volunteering Unit, Careers Service)