Mrs Lynne Mungomery, Director of Service
We have many busy days at Brisbane Girls Grammar School — days when students rush, with speech notes in hand, from assembly to classroom, from the café to the D (dance) Floor, often at a frantic pace with the desire to be involved in all of the excitement that the co-curricular programme brings.
Naturally, there are those girls who choose to avoid the frenzy and contribute in other less visible and obvious ways. As an integral member of our school community, she might be the student who strives to walk 10 000 steps per day with her Steptember team after school or who cheers in support for the Year 11 nominees for Service Captain, having listened to the delivery of their speech to the cohort.
One of the nominees for this position in 2017 summarised the unique place of Service at Girls Grammar. ‘I find Service to be one of the vital connectors between Year levels, allowing girls to form friendships based not just on age, but on mutual interests’ (McArthur-Dowty, 2016). Through the School Service Programme, students of similar interests and intentions come together to share for the betterment of others. An opportunity arises from the unity of those that are willing to give and to share. Such has been the uniting power of #blunity, created by the Student Council of 2016 and so willingly shared by our girls in photos, speeches and social media throughout the year. #blunity stickers can be seen on phone cases, laptops and school bags. Not only has the sale of the stickers raised funds for the School Charity, Kids Helpline, but in buying a sticker the girls are showing their support for the goals established by the 2016 Service Captains at the beginning of the year.
‘For better unity support your community’ is a phrase that we have heard fortnightly on assembly from Service Captains, Lydia Gandhi and Phoebe Gibson-Dougall. The aim of the 2016 School Charity has been to acknowledge individuality as members of the Girls Grammar student body and in doing so, to support each other and the members of our community. Students have been challenged to identify who is in their community — Girls Grammar and beyond — and to consider how they might contribute to this community, while acknowledging their need to accept their own identity and the diversity of our population. Supported by the Student Care Ethics programmes, each Year level has had the opportunity to learn about and reflect on their mental health, personal identity and self-awareness.
The School Service programme raises in the vicinity of $60 000 per annum. This is the result of much planning, preparation and promotion by the students involved. But, what do our students actually get out of this? Is the raising of awareness and deepening of understanding by our students as strong as the dollars that are raised? This is certainly the intention of the programme and something that we continue to develop each year. The aim is to make a connection, through empathy coupled with action, to allow students to truly connect and share. To embed reflective practices as they meet the challenges, deepen understanding and contribute through service and model active citizenry, is essential to encourage Service Learning.
Through participation in Community Service, students engage in activities to meet actual community needs as an integrated aspect of the curriculum (Cress, 2005). While the terms are often used interchangeably, Cress says that Service Learning is established when students engage in Community Service activities with intentional academic and learning goals and opportunities for reflection that connect to their academic disciplines.
The value of the Community Service programme is measured by the reflection process. Reflecting on experiences lends new significance to what we are learning. It allows us to compare initial goals and objectives with eventual outcomes (Cress, 2005). It is a delight to hear students describe the thoughts, conversations and sharing of emotions following time spent in the service of others. This is a transformative experience as they express how their service has created a shift in their thinking, as they realise that they actually can contribute to a better world, be it on a large or small scale, enhancing their judicious and ethical engagement with the world.
At Girls Grammar we strive to ‘cultivate an environment of judicious, ethical and purposeful engagement where the understanding that our actions should have a positive impact demands principled behaviour and doing what is right’ (Brisbane Girls Grammar School, 2015).
Service is not about completing a specified number of hours just to get it on the resume; not just doing it so that the students can say or record that they have completed it. The reason for participating in service is that they have something to give. By sharing their skills, our students realise that they can make a difference to someone else’s life. As one student wrote: ‘That is something that makes me feel truly special. I love helping people, animals and the environment and feel such a great sense of pride and personal satisfaction knowing that I have done my bit to help them the best I can’ (Kumar, 2016).
Feed the people not the ego — to share empathy, kindness and compassion are more important than the physical things that we can offer. Lucas Patchett and Nicholas Marchesi (2016) founders of Orange Sky Laundry, express this so naturally when they describe the conversations that are shared while the clothes of those in need are being washed.
‘Orange Sky Laundry is a catalyst for conversation. In the one hour time it takes to wash and dry someone’s clothes there is absolutely nothing to do but sit down on one of our 6 orange chairs and have a positive and genuine conversation between our everyday volunteers and everyday friends on the street’ (Marchesi & Patchett, 2016).
The impact of the conversations that are shared while the clothes are in the machine has an immeasurable and overwhelmingly positive outcome for the person. Talk to the person, laugh with the person. Help to add some dignity and hope to their lives.
For our Community Service students it might be the game of table tennis with the resident in aged care or the feeling of achievement shared upon the completion of a first reader in the Smith Family Buddy reading programme that allows the person and the volunteer to laugh, relax and feel a sense of elation together as a result of the special attention that has been shared. For Senior Service student, Abirami Somasundarum, it was the chance to play her flute and to break the routine at the Aged Care home where she has volunteered, that helped her realise that she was capable of making a positive difference to the residents’ lives (2016).
A scholarship application that simply records a list of activities in Year 12 is treated as just that, an application with lots of padding and activities to make the application look good. Beyond listed experiences, it is the whole person that is the appeal to the potential employer. The development of a philanthropic mindset within students who graduate with the intention of continuing to give back to their community and their School is what we strive for. Several of our students have been acknowledged this week through the awarding of Speech Day prizes for service to their School. They have demonstrated a spirit of generosity and contribution through the giving and sharing of their skills, talents and time to causes for the improvement of society and to their school.
I have had the most fulfilling experience over the past five years, as I have been able to share the Girls Grammar journey with some very special young ladies. Today I am a somewhat emotional mother of a Year 12 student and also a teacher at this wonderful school. What a pleasure it has been to watch the class of 2016 find their niche at Girls Grammar and share the highs and lows of growing up together.
While the tables outside the windows of the Main Building will seem a little quiet and empty over the next couple of weeks, I look forward to the day when these eloquent, dignified and confident young women return to our school to share with us the world that has opened up to them, and their personal contribution to it, since their graduation day, 18 November 2016.
Brisbane Girls Grammar School. (2016). Strategic design 2016–2019. Brisbane, Australia: BGGS.
Cress, C. M. (2005). Understanding the learning-through-serving propostion: What is service learning. Virginia, USA: Stylus Publishing.
Kumar, A. (2016). Service captain application.
Marchesi, N., & Patchett, L. (2016, October 31). What we do. Retrieved from http://www.orangeskylaundry.com.au/what-we-do
McArthur-Dowty, J. (2016). Service captain application.
Somasundaram, A. (2016). Senior service reflective report.