As a school, Sevenoaks places significant emphasis on building a relationship with the local community. Its service programme gives students the opportunity to provide help in local schools, homes for the elderly and centres for children and adults with physical or learning difficulties. Some more details of a few of these projects are as follows:
Working with the elderly
At Thursday club students host a group of local elderly people, spending a couple of hours chatting to them over tea and biscuits. Each week entertainment is provided by other students in the form of musical performances, or sometimes members of staff who deliver presentations on topics of personal or school interest. The Thursday club students organise a weekly raffle and have been known to make the odd cake or two! It is a wonderful opportunity to learn inter-personal skills, including listening, talking to others with sensitivity and maturity, as well as to learn about some fascinating life histories.
Working with people with disabilities
Special Needs Computing
This activity takes between four and eight visitors from local residential homes for adults with learning disabilities. Students use computer programs as a teaching tool, play games, and chat about the lives, families and hobbies of the people who come, some of whom have attended for over five years. They look forward to the afternoon sessions as a time then they can gain some one-to-one attention, and all involved learn a great deal from one another.
In this service activity a group of Sevenoaks students enjoy a harmonious experience with adults from various backgrounds who find difficulty in learning. We teach application and use of a number of programs, including Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Internet Explorer. The students and the adults work in pairs. They create recipes, reports, letters and posters in a comfortable and supportive atmosphere which enhances learning. Teaching the adults how to use these products is interesting, but what they really take from the activity is far more important. We aim to offer them a warm environment where they can talk about anything they want and where they will be welcomed and encouraged.
This activity also benefits the students who help out, and what we learn is essential: how to interact with people who are different, and how to develop patience and understanding. We also find that the experiences develop our teaching and collaborative skills. To see the adults grow in confidence, gain in social ability and develop their communication skills feels like a monumental achievement. They come with a willing and open attitude and it is up to us to lead them in the right direction. Our goal is to make each session a small achievement and to make sure they take something from it. To see them leave in their bus with a smile is perhaps the most warming and encouraging moment of the day. – Tancredi Castellano Pucci, Leo Danczak, Max Lewthwaite, Elliot Levy, Xander Bastin
Dorton House School for the Blind provides opportunities for disabled people to experience sailing and develop various kinds of physical skills. The boats used are specially designed for disabled sailors, are very stable and safe, but fun to sail. Sevenoaks pupils help with all aspects of the activity.
Working with children
Riding for the disabled (RDA) takes place at Bradbourne Riding School on Thursday afternoons. Students are engaged in individual support for children with various physical and learning difficulties, helping them to learn how to ride horses and accompanying them on trails.
Valence School is a local residential school for disabled children; our students make weekly visits, providing learning support in various ways, including within classrooms and in physical activities such as sports.
Primary schools, ‘Minimus’ and music
Each week quite a number of students in years 10-12 visit a range of local primary schools to work with children of various ages. Activities include helping with reading, playing games, music, putting up displays or using computers. In addition, one further group provides extension and enrichment to particular children by teaching them Latin and aspects of Roman culture using the textbook, Minimus.
The service is enjoyable in that we are able to experience the joy of educating young people in a subject that is not normally available to them. The textbook gives an easy and enjoyable approach to learning not only the language aspects but also some of the myths from the Greek world, which the children like reading aloud, performing or drawing. Not only do the children benefit, but we learn a lot from teaching. For example, I have learnt many skills with how to go about teaching in different ways depending on what I am teaching that day. It also is useful in confidence building, and general skills such as planning ahead.
Some go specifically to lead musical activities. We even have a Gamelan Orchestra for use in primary schools. This traditional instrumental ensemble from Indonesia is a wonderful way to make music in a group and children who are taught how to play really enjoy it.
On two consecutive Thursdays, the VSU Gamelan group welcomed students from the local Royal London Society for the Blind school, Dorton House. The students who attended were either blind or partially sighted, and some have severe physical and/or mental disabilities. Though at first slightly daunted by the strange sounds of the Gamelan, they came to enjoy the Indonesian tunes performed by the group as well as the amiable company of its members. The students then had a go at learning a range of instruments – from the high-pitched sarons to the Indonesian drums. They showed strong artistic talent and it was very moving to see them fully involving themselves in creating the vibrations and sounds of the instruments. At the end of the session, both parties had thoroughly enjoyed themselves. This was an incredible experience from which I learnt a lot. – Markus Mok