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Profile: Ms Mehta and Mr Shirwani on Community Engagement in Lockdown

Profile: Ms Mehta and Mr Shirwani on Virtual Community Engagement

Community Engagement has become a significant part of Eton’s Virtual Curriculum. On behalf of the Press Office, editor Thomas Hilditch interviewed Mr Shirwani, Head of Community Engagement, and Ms Mehta, our Social Action Mentor, to find out more.

1. What is the Community Engagement programme at Eton?

It is a programme of opportunities for boys to engage with the communities around them, helping in any way they can and thereby developing their character and learning more about the world. Before the current pandemic, this focused on the community around Eton, with additional options for volunteering elsewhere. Now it’s very much the other way around – we are working on the most global definition of the word ‘community’.

2. What is its ethos?

The ethos is learning through serving. This is a wonderful educational opportunity which allows boys to develop virtues, skills and insights in a way that is not possible within the Eton bubble. Our starting point is to ask ourselves: “what are the needs in our community and how can our boys help to meet them?” We are always very grateful to the people and organisations that allow our boys to volunteer, and they in turn really appreciate the boys’ engagement.

3. What are typical Community Engagement activities that boys are involved in?

We have had a flourishing programme of volunteering activities in partnership with local schools, charities and other projects. These form an integral part of the co-curricular timetable of most Year 12 boys at Eton and are now increasingly available to boys in other year groups. Over 200 Year 12  boys volunteer at a wide range of different placements and projects. These have included:

  • 15 local schools – music practice, classroom help, sports coaching, maths mentoring, chess clubs, Latin classes
  • 5 placements with the local elderly and disabled – helping in private houses, care homes, weekly clubs and charity shops
  • 10 museums, arts centres, libraries and charity shops – running workshops for local children or assisting with clerical tasks
  • 6 outdoor placements – swan rescue, rowing coaching, riverside maintenance, tourist information and renovating public gardens in Slough

Alongside this scheme, we have run a programme of events and short assignments to develop the boys' awareness and social literacy: a series of talks to inspire and inform; workshops to help them prepare mentally for their responsibilities; and a series of opportunities to reflect on how they might make the most of their placement as a chance to serve and to learn.

4. How has the Community Engagement team adapted its role due to the COIVD-19 crisis?

The team has been amazing. We developed a list of options for the boys, ranging from helping in their local communities and networks, to sponsored activities for their chosen charities, to environmental action to assisting with online research projects, to taking courses in global development, to devising a project of their own. It has been wonderful seeing Etonians step up. From Years 9 to 13, boys have being putting time and energy into all sorts of volunteering tasks – cooking, sewing, tutoring, fundraising, researching, serving, organising, the list goes on… it is inspiring.

Ms Mehta also pointed out that traditional Community Engagement projects have continued: Maths mentoring and Latin Club have continued on virtually, and boys have been creating resources for Eton Porny and local primary schools, with great feedback from teachers and parents. Lots of boys have been tutoring and mentoring younger students within their communities, reaching out to care homes and elderly residents, and helping to deliver supplies to the vulnerable who are self-isolating. Many have created online networks where students can share stories and poems they’ve written, helping to bring communities together. The wealth of creative ideas for fundraising has been astounding, such as caption contests, FIFA tournaments, shaving heads, playing the bagpipes, online concerts, etc. I have been amazed at the variety and creativity of ideas, as well as the broad range of causes boys have been supporting, such as our Eton Action charities, the NHS, charities that support domestic abuse victims, and environmental charities to name just a few. So much has been going on that we are running out of space in the weekly mailings, but I think that that is a good problem to have!

5. How can the Community Engagement team ensure that boy-run projects like these continue when we return to school?

We will definitely keep up the best of what we have been able to achieve this term. This will include the substantial involvement of boys from younger year groups, which has been great to see, and also more online and international projects. And then we will continue with the best of what we did before: the emphasis on learning and reflection; and doing everything we can for our local partner organisations as they rebuild after the crisis.


DATE POSTED: 01 June 2020
2020Parents & Pupils

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