Limehills School volunteer army building a better community

Robyn Edie/Fairfax NZ

Southland's Limehills school runs a Student Volunteer Army as part of the curriculum.

In the converted school dental clinic, which is now a kitchen, Limehills School students are preparing pumpkin soup for the Ronald McDonald house at Southland Hospital.

Every Friday, the students prepare soup and food items such as mousetraps and brownies, and a teacher takes them to the hospital that afternoon.

Students Hannah Thorburn, 12, Georgia Hart, 11, started preparing weekend meals for the families staying at the Ronald McDonald House after one of their teachers told them about her daughter's friend being in hospital.

Limehills school students Hannah Thorburn, 12, Georgia Hart, 11, Bella Dykes, 13, Jack Churstain, 12, and Tayla ...

Limehills school students Hannah Thorburn, 12, Georgia Hart, 11, Bella Dykes, 13, Jack Churstain, 12, and Tayla Churstain, 13 prepare food to be taken to the Ronald McDonald house at Southland Hospital.,

Tayla Churstain, 13, said it was not only the students who made food, there were parents and members of the community who put their hand up to make things like muffins and cakes too.

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Cooking food for the Ronald McDonald house is just one of the many projects the Limehills School Student Volunteer Army is involved in.

Limehills school students Carson Lange, 10, left, and Blake Kollat, 9 are planting seedlings in the school tunnel house.

Limehills school students Carson Lange, 10, left, and Blake Kollat, 9 are planting seedlings in the school tunnel house.

Principal Jim Turrell said they started with a school focus, then expanded to the community around them, and then beyond to the world.

After one student learnt about the Dress a Girl Around the World project, an initiative that seeks to give dresses to girls around the world, it was suggested as a project.

In 2015, the year 8 students made dresses that were sent to an orphanage in Uganda and the year 7 students sewed a dress for a girl affected by cyclone Pam in Vanuatu.

The students manage the school farm, Lambsworth Station, currently grazing 20 ewes. Students also keep chickens and bees and grow a variety of vegetables, which are eaten on-site or sold alongside other products at the school's co-operative each Friday.

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Pupils plan and manage all aspects of these ventures and reinvest all their profits to further enhance their school, Turrell said.

Teacher Kirsty Rodger said the idea came about after the Christchurch earthquakes, when the original Student Volunteer Army was founded by Sam Johnson

Rodger was reading a lot about Johnson's philosophy and how he got the students together, and realised Limehills School was doing something very similar.

The teachers then worked through the curriculum to find out what learning the teachers were covering with all this work to better shape their education around the programme, Rodger said.

"We got the kids to tell us what jobs they thought they were doing and the skills they thought each job required, and then they made up application forms and applied for the jobs that they thought they would like to do."

Some of the most sought-after jobs are working with children at Winton Kindergarten and teaching kapa haka at Weka Preschool, she said

Rodger said kids are already coming to her to apply for next year.

Turrell said as the programme has grown, the teachers have seen deeper learning within the children.

Rather than focusing solely on subjects such as English and maths, they also work on practical, community-driven learning, which is directed by the students, he said.

"When they go to apply for a job in the real world, actually no one cares about what they did in an exercise book in year 8."

Pulling focus away from textbook-driven learning and the traditional curriculum has not been detrimental to the students, in fact the students abilities are on par with their peers, if not better, Turrell said.

"They're really active participants in the community and that is great learning environment for them going forward."

Rodger said the work the students have done has  given them a greater appreciation of volunteers and the role they play within the community because the rural community is made up of volunteers who are firefighters or ambulance staff.

"These kids are going to be expected to be the volunteers in the years to come."

Turrell said Johnson has visited the school several times and he was blown away by what he saw.

 Johnson has since changed the strategy of the Volunteer Army Foundation with a focus on bringing it into primary schools.

He said the global youth volunteering movement continues to play a vital role in youth development.

"We take for granted how progressive New Zealand is in civic engagement and how projects like Limehills SVA actually are fuelling a movement of young people being involved in their community. Thanks to the Community Leadership Fund, the Volunteer Army Foundation are going to be working with Limehills to help other students get involved in their community." 

 - Stuff


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