As part of the Challoner’s Baccalaureate (CBACC), an initiative designed to encourage community engagement and build learning habits for Year 12s, students were asked to find volunteering placements in the local area this year. Galvanised, students selected placements in a huge variety of locations, ranging from charities, care homes, and libraries to societies, inside and outside of the school.

Feedback from students and placements has been overwhelmingly positive, especially for students volunteering in local primary schools. DCGS, DCHS and Chesham Grammar School collectively sent 100 Year 12 students into 11 specifically selected Chiltern primary schools, weekly for 6 months. During this time, they worked with targeted small groups of students needing support, primarily in English and Maths.

I found it hugely rewarding to see the pupils that I worked with improve week by week

One of the targeted schools was Waterside School, Chesham, where Amri Shakir volunteered:

‘At the school we were each assigned a class that we would work with throughout the year and I spent most of my time helping out the Year 3 students with Maths. I would normally spend an hour or so working on a one-to-one basis with a pupil to help them through the classwork or leading little groups through discussions. However, not only did I help them, but I also found it hugely rewarding to see the pupils that I worked with improve week by week, and I gained a greater appreciation for the patience that all teachers must have! Overall though, my favourite part was befriending the students who would update me each week on all the stories and gossip that I had missed!’

Paige George volunteered at Newtown Infant School, Chesham, for six months and also at the Chiltern Hills Academy for a half term:

‘Both schools gave me such amazing experiences of life inside the classroom, especially useful for me as I would like to be a secondary school teacher myself. At Newtown, I worked for two hours each week with seven year olds, which helped me develop patience above anything else, especially when doing weekly reading sessions with children who really hated reading! Along with this, I was invited back to Newtown in the summer term for their annual school trip to the beach – an extraordinarily eye-opening experience! After an exhausting nine hour day surrounded by tired, sand-covered children, I definitely knew that primary was not for me!

'Volunteering at Chiltern Hills Academy was altogether a different experience, working in both the Modern Foreign Languages and RS departments with young adults. In these sessions, I had to take on an attitude more similar to the teachers’, specifically with regards to discipline. It was really interesting to observe both a lower and higher Year 10 set for RS, seeing the differing styles of teaching required, even with the same teaching material at hand. Both experiences were thoroughly enjoyable and I will hopefully carry on volunteering at another school in Year 13.’

Teacher feedback has been highly complimentary, with students praised for their willingness to get stuck in, patience when children have struggled, and the overall enthusiasm that they have brought to the classroom. Many schools are already looking forward to receiving students from the next round of the Challoner’s Baccalaureate, given the positive results this year.

Students volunteered in a wide variety of locations, not just in schools, with several placements in local churches. Matthew Dagnall volunteered at King’s Church, Amersham:

‘I volunteered in a children's community group on Fridays. It was always such a pleasure to help out with the kids and it has given me some great life experience. To be a part of making these children’s lives more enjoyable for even just a year was something really satisfying and rewarding. You end up getting to know the kids very well and having a lot of fun with the whole group. I felt like part of a team and it was great to know I was able to make a difference in my community. Even though it isn’t a requirement, I am certainly going to continue my volunteering into Year 13 – it is such a great thing to do and if I am able to help, why not do so?’

I found that volunteering developed my skills of organisation and co-operation

Students not only volunteered in the community, but at DCGS as well, with Flo Copp organising a popular new society for the Sixth Form:

‘Volunteering at Challoner’s was an extremely rewarding experience. Not only did it enable me to give back to a school which has been so welcoming since I joined in September, but it also gave me a chance to pursue my academic subject interests beyond the classroom, by founding a new society – a political debate in the style of "Question Time" (the BBC One politics programme chaired by David Dimbleby). Running this every other week in the autumn term with Finlay Carroll was an exciting opportunity; the varied panels of students passionately debating a variety of topics, including the topical stories, Brexit, and ethical issues such as assisted dying and transgender rights. Each meeting brought new panellists and audience members and it was fascinating to hear such a diverse range of opinions. Encompassing a wide array of political allegiances, from the Tories to the Greens, it’s safe to say that Tuesday lunchtimes were filled with emotive and lively discussion!

'Personally, I found that volunteering developed my skills of organisation and co-operation. Learning how to work together to ensure that the events ran smoothly and were engaging was a challenge at first, however as the society progressed, we were able to keep learning from previous debates and apply what we’d learned to the next ones. Overall, the volunteering was thoroughly enjoyable!’

After the success of such a variety of placements this year, we hope that the it can be repeated next year, and continue with the students who have chosen to carry on their volunteering beyond their initial CBACC placements.