Education volunteers share their experiences

When: 29 Jul 2022

Ardoch’s Education Volunteers are as unique as the communities they work in, bringing their own personalities and diverse experiences to support vulnerable children.  

As part of Ardoch’s commitment to ongoing training and support, a recent professional development session brought a panel of five current volunteers into the spotlight to share some of their learnings with others. The stories they shared were not only very helpful but also incredibly inspiring. 

Hailing from a range of backgrounds, our five volunteers – Sue, Tony, Lucas, Sandra and Rebecca – have at least one thing in common; a strong interest in supporting vulnerable children reach their educational goals. Many have a personal connection to the impact of educational challenges and the extra support needed to overcome them, while others were keen to enjoy their retirement by supporting children in their communities. 

As Tony, who is a retired business analyst, shared; “I saw an [volunteering] ad for doing robotics and thought ‘you ripper!’” Tony now spends his volunteer hours helping children at a nearby primary school with their STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills, which includes programming, Lego building and stop-motion video. 

Rebecca’s passion for literacy was inspired by her own brother who she says, ‘struggled to read’. Although she works full time, her deep understanding of the value of education support and commitment to help others has been recognised by her employer and she is able to incorporate her volunteering alongside her work. 

Overcoming challenges as an Education Volunteer 

Asked what challenges they faced when they first began their volunteer assignments, everyone on the panel shared the same concern – that the children would not accept them, and they would struggle to relate. 

Lucas – who originally came to Ardoch through his former workplace’s volunteering program and then stuck around as an Education Volunteer – was worried that a lack of qualifications in education would make him more of an incumbrance. 

“I wasn’t sure of what value I could bring,” he said. “That anxiety falls away once you’re in the room. Being patient and getting to know everyone, everyone appreciates you being there – kids love the opportunity for one-on-one.”   

Each volunteer soon discovered their fears were proven to be unfounded, what they encountered instead was acceptance, an enormous amount of relief from teachers, positive feedback, a few ‘high-fives’, and Lucas even received an unofficial job offer from a student when their teacher retired! 

Fitting into the school community has been a real highlight for all the volunteers and any initial challenges were quickly overcome. 

Building life skills 

While Ardoch’s mission is to help build educational and life skills in children facing disadvantage, this inevitably extends out to our Education Volunteers who have also personally grown through the experience. 

As Sandra said, “my tolerance and patience has increased [and] I have a better understanding of the hurdles many families experience.” 

After working with teachers and seeing the amount of time they spend preparing for lessons and remaining patient under often trying conditions, Lucas said he now has a lot of admiration for teachers, and it has helped him understand his own children better. 

Rebecca shared that it has increased her understanding of the challenges people face when coming from non-English speaking backgrounds and how she has taken for granted her grasp of the English language and how complex and nuanced it is. 

Volunteering in a high-needs multicultural community, Sue has witnessed amazing skills in communication, noting how regardless of language barriers (with a multitude of different languages being spoken in the one pre-school class) the children find a way to get along and find common ground. Adding that; “dinosaurs are a universal language.”   

For everyone on the panel, the deeper understanding they have gained has been incredibly enriching and taught them so much about children and their capacity. “They’ll do amazing things if given the opportunity,” says Tony. 

Forming connections and making an impact 

For all the volunteers it’s the little ‘wins’ along the way that really stand out, some describe it as a ‘buzz’ they feel when a child finally gets something that’s been tricky for them – or seeing them progress, or build resilience, or confidence. At times it can be the impact made on a group’s attitude to their learning or to others and on occasions it will be an emotional impact for an individual child experiencing crisis. 

Sue shared a deeply touching story with the panel and volunteers about a little boy at the pre-school she is linked with, a boy who was very sad and alone. Often sitting with his head rested on the table, he would allow Sue to sit with him and read a story but wouldn’t engage further. When the class of children started chatting about what food their mother’s put in their lunchboxes one day, the boy opened up with Sue later saying, ‘my mum is gone’. Not knowing exactly what he meant but pleased he was engaging, Sue gently reassured him that he still has a family to which he replied, ‘yeah, my dad is there’. 

Sue later learned from the teacher that the boy’s mother had died at the beginning of the year, and he had never spoken about it. By simply sitting with him and providing the presence of company, Sue was having an impact she didn’t know she was having and helped a grieving boy take a powerful step towards healing. 

Ardoch is so grateful to our wonderful volunteers who can have a meaningful and life-changing impact on the outcomes of the children we support through our partner schools. If you have been inspired by the experiences of our volunteer panel and would like to get involved, you can learn more here or contact: volunteers@ardoch.org.au