RSA Academies RSA4 Road-trip: Woodrow First School
On our second leg of the RSA4 road trip, RSA Academies made a very special visit to Woodrow First School to catch up with Year 4 pupils on their youth social action project.
Tackling difficult social issues
First, I want to take you back a few weeks ago to a lunch meeting I attended for youth social action organisations. Understanding some of the barriers to social action in primary schools was something that all of the organisations sat around the table wanted to explore. From organisations that have been coordinating national programmes for years, to others like us that are piloting new projects, it was clear that we had all come across similar challenges. One of these potential challenges is that social action often involves confronting some difficult truths about society, inequality and social injustice. It may ask us to acknowledge that some of these issues are up close, in our communities, in our schools and can affect those close to the project. Including young people, particularly primary school children, in these discussions can be daunting but from my visit to Woodrow First School, I can see the wonderful learning opportunities it can provide.
The last time that I had seen the Year 4 Pupil Leaders from Woodrow First School was at a special social action planning workshop where they had decided they wanted to dedicate their RSA4 project to tackling homelessness in their community. Since then pupils have developed a thoughtful and impactful, youth-led project that has inspired others to support their actions and spread the message of compassion and service.
As part of their commitment to learning more about the issue, pupils carefully researched local charities, and with the help of their teacher, composed an email inviting Sharon from Redditch Nightstop to their school. Through meeting Sharon, the pupils had the opportunity to learn more about the difference between street homelessness and hidden homelessness. Pupils learnt about some of the reasons why someone might find themselves at risk of becoming homeless and the services that Redditch Nightstop offers to support young people in this difficult position.
To scaffold the project, school staff have adopted the pupil’s project into the school’s highly creative curriculum which draws upon the teaching approach ‘Mantle of the Expert’. Here pupils use dramatic-inquiry within all aspects of the curriculum as a way of exploring learning. Within this approach, children are treated ‘as if they are experts. […] They take on the powers and responsibilities of a team of experts working on important assignments, caring about the things they do, and taking pride in their status’.
By using drama within literacy, pupils have been reading the children’s book the ‘Way Home’. By exploring the book’s themes, pupils have been able to age-appropriately gain insight into how it might feel to become homeless from the first-person perspective of the main character. Pupils are currently working on some creative writing pieces based on their own version of the story if it were to take place in their community. Breaking down any potential preconceived ideas and exploring this sensitive topic openly has been key to get pupils talking about their project across the wider school and in their home environment. It’s through this respectful learning that some families have opened up about their own personal experiences and reflected on an issue that affects many communities but is often not spoken about with young children.
The success of the project has come from it being pupil-led and owned. After exploring the issue in-depth, pupils have taken the initiative to plan a series of social action activities for their chosen issue and local charity. Pupils have used their creativity to create posters, artwork and displays around the school to raise awareness for Redditch Nightstop. They’ve rallied together to organise an items collection within their community by creating posters for their school and local library encouraging people to donate what they can. Soon pupils had filled their school’s reception with dozens of hygiene products, as well as tinned and dried food.
Not content with simply providing material support to their chosen charity, pupils decided to host a fundraising street dance performance (linking their own love of dance and the connection of homelessness to the streets). Pupils are continuing to organise their own fundraising activities including hosting a film night/disco and break time tuck shop. To date, they have raised over £250 for Redditch Nightstop. Rather than the transactional nature of donating to national fundraising days or activities set by adults in the school, pupils can demonstrate a good understanding of the cause, how their support will be utilised and most importantly are excited to see that they’re the ones setting the goals and making a difference.
The pupil’s project has created a ripple effect more widely in the community. It wasn’t long before a local shop invited pupils to their store to hand pick some items that they would donate to their RSA4 project. A Redditch Councillor soon found out about the pupil’s cause and asked to meet with them. Not only that, the Councillor was able to help put them in touch with a local taxi company that offered to transport their donations (which by this point had reached 12 large crates full to the brim) for free. As their teacher explained the pupil’s kindness was contagious and their actions were influencing others to take positive steps in the service of others.
On visiting Redditch Nightstop to make their first donation, the group of pupils took centre stage. They had come prepared with clipboards full of questions for centre staff including, what will happen to our donations? How many people have you helped already this year? And what inspired you to work for a charity tackling homelessness. The staff took time to consider each question and led pupils on a tour of the centre to show them where their donated items would be stored until someone in need came to them for help. Pupils also took time to read a poem entitled ‘Hopeless’ which had been written especially for the visit by one of the pupils and his mum.
‘Homeless is hopeless, just hopeless.
Homeless is hopeless, just hopeless.
Homeless is rubbish, homeless is hard.No-one knows how it feels alone in the dark.
You can’t even imagine being so scared.
Nothing and no-one to talk to, feeling no one cared’ […]
Before leaving, the pupils made sure that they would continue to show they cared by promising to be leaders for change and social action in their school and wider community.
RSA4 is a new initiative supported by the Pears Foundation #iwill Fund that will see the RSA and RSA Academies investigating what high-quality youth social action looks like at primary school level. The RSA4 programme runs across four West Midlands schools including Abbeywood First School RSA Academy, Charford First School, Sutton Park Primary RSA Academy, and Woodrow First School. The overall programme will see Year 4 pupils deliver their own youth-led social action project that will tackle an issue that pupils recognise in their communities or school.Related project: RSA4 Primary Youth Social Action