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“I am capable of so much more than I thought”

Group of volunteer mentors sitting in a circle

For me, my City Year UK (CYUK) experience started off pretty weird. The culture and traditions they had us participate in from the very first day were so foreign… they were new and felt cringey to me. I mean, I do it now with no complaints – but for those first two weeks of Basic Training Academy (BTA), I definitely had internal battles. I was trying to appear too cool for their customs, customs that I felt made me look stupid. But when the meanings of the traditions were explained and reasoned out, I came to realise the purpose of them, and that they would bring the new cohort into a pre-established family. In my opinion, BTA dragged somewhat.. but that was because I just wanted to find out what school I had been placed in. BTA built the theoretical foundations that would be essential in coming to terms with volunteering full-time in disadvantaged schools, in high risk areas. Whilst BTA did have a big focus on working in secondary schools, there were still key lessons to be learnt about safeguarding, school procedures and our own values and willpower that would get us through the year. On the last day of BTA, I found out who my teammates were, and that I would be based at Sebright Primary School (Hackney) – where the real journey for the year was just about to begin.

The first two weeks of actually serving in Sebright were pretty chaotic, despite two inset days, and us only serving in school Monday to Thursday. I got lost quite a few times and didn’t always know what I was meant to be doing. I was placed in a different year every day from Year 3 to Year 6. Each year had two classes and we swapped class half-way through the day in order to get a feel for which years we preferred, and which we would want to support full-time. On the second Thursday, the last day of us being in school for that week, I put in my three preferences: Years 5, 4 and 6. From being in class and interacting with the kids in the playground and after-school clubs I liked Year 5 the most, closely followed by Year 4. However, I was assigned Year 6. But I’m thankful for it every day. I actually love being in Year 6: their little attitudes and personalities make my time at Sebright so much fun, they definitely have me laughing a lot during our many different conversations. I help in Year 6 with another Olivia, another volunteer mentor, and we work so well together. We are quite similar in our own personalities, which adds to the enjoyment.

Over the next few weeks, my team and I settled into life at Sebright, coming to terms with all we were expected to do and take responsibility for. By this point, most of the team were given a focus list of around 10 students to work closely with through the year. For Year 6, these are students who teachers believe could pass their SATs with some dedicated extra support. Olivia and I were given 6 students from each class, totalling 12 between us. We each took a class for monitoring purposes, though we both work with all 12 daily.

A typical day in Year 6 consists of many different duties. A 15-minute session before class starts at 9am, known as study start, where the children come up to class and get ready for the day answering a set of arithmetic, reasoning and problem-solving questions. During this time, I take a couple kids from my focus list in one class outside to work through the questions together and give them any help if needed, or sometimes we focus on times table practice. During a 10-minute phonics session, the team will head over to Year 1 to work with a child/group that needs a little or a lot of extra help to pass their Phonics Screening test. These sessions can be really rewarding when you can tangibly see the improvements you’ve made. My CYUK school team also read with both Year 1 and Year 2 for 30 minutes each, improving their reading levels and vocabulary. Apart from PE and Music, I’m in Year 6 in every lesson, paying particular attention to my focus list students in core subjects, yet still supporting the whole class, unless my class teachers give me out-of-class tasks. Despite spending the majority of my day with Year 6, I have built many relationships with children throughout the whole school. These have been developed through playground duties and school trips, away from classroom dynamics, and through after-school clubs, which the CYUK team tend to organise, plan, resource and deliver. I really will miss Sebright when it’s time for me to leave.

CYUK has developed and instilled in me so many different lifelong skills – from active service as well as our Learning Development Days (LDD) every Friday. They continue to push me out of my comfort zone and have made me realise I am capable of so much more than I thought. I would never have experienced such a growth in my personal development without CYUK. The fact that I actually enjoy going to school every day, despite the early morning starts which are no joke, has confirmed that working with kids is what I want to do; even with little to no pay. By taking advantage of numerous opportunities available at CYUK for free, including working with a corporate mentor and completing level 2 and level 3 courses, I’ve been able to proactively work towards and pursue my chosen career as an Educational Psychologist. It’s a shame that COVID-19 has hampered my full experience. But whenever this pandemic ends, I’m ready to put my red jacket back on, rep the red, and go to work.

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