Teach First Futures is a university access programme that aims to give sixth formers from backgrounds currently under-represented at university the support they need to attend the country’s top universities. For the past four days, I have been volunteering as a group leader in the Futures Easter School at Cambridge University.
Although many people thought I was mad for giving up four precious days of my Easter holiday to do this and as much as I regretted signing up for it when my alarm went off early on Tuesday morning (and every morning since), now that I am sitting on the train on the way back and reflecting on the week, I have absolutely no regrets.
There were two volunteer opportunities I could have gone for: an academic leader or a group leader. As a group leader, I was in charge of a group of ten year 12 students, who I ran sessions for such as:
– ‘Igniting ambition’- helping them to realise their goals and ambitions as well as the actions they need to take to get there
– ‘Best foot forward’- enabled students to explore their best skills and how they can portray themselves in the best light when networking
– ‘Enterprise Challenge’ – students were given an hour to design a proposal for a new university, considering factors such as fees, accommodation and courses they will specialise in.
During the week, I also had the opportunity to run a mock Enactus meeting, to give students an experience of one society at university.
In all of these sessions, it was amazing hearing the ideas these students were contributing and how well these students from all around the country worked together. This was despite their difficulties understanding each other’s accents- e.g. When a couple of students in my group were discussing their target grades and the girl from London looked very confused when the girl from Newcastle said her target grade was an ‘E’, which eventually after her Geordie accent was interpreted, she realised was an ‘A’.
At both the formal dinner on Thursday night and the closing ceremony on Friday, the students were given the opportunity to make a speech to the rest of the cohort (150 students) about their experience of the week and how it had helped them. These speeches really were the highlight of the week and brought a lot of people to tears. One great quote, which I really wish I could remember word for word so as to do it justice, was from a boy speaking about how he didn’t think he would make any friends but he had met several people who he got on well with and he hoped that other people had found people they could connect with too. He then finished his speech embracing the ‘No limits’ theme of the week by saying “It’s a lot easier to be limitless, when you have friends by your side.” Or something equally emotional, to that effect.
Another great speech was by a girl at the closing ceremony. As she stood at the front, timidly speaking into the microphone and explaining how she would never have done this at the start of the week, I don’t think any of us expected her to come out with the thing she learnt that week was “The waiters at St Katherine’s are really fit.” and that if her Mum ever talked about limits and told her off again for eating all of the snacks from the fridge, she knew what to say… “No limits!”.
There’s been a lot of great moments this week and I am so happy that I had this opportunity. It was a really nice change to work with sixth form students, especially from lots of different backgrounds that I wouldn’t normally work with. There is just something about the typical ‘London lad’ accent that makes anything they say ten times funnier. This one boy in my group in particular came out with some great lines, such as when they were trying to remember the word ‘extenuating’ and I told them, he just looked at me and said “Ahhhh Miss, you went to uni yeah?”. And when he was struggling to read my writing then said “What, you leave school and forget how to write?”
It was a great week and I really wish I could have worked with my group for longer. Although, that being said, I will not miss the 10.30pm checks we had to do, to make sure students were in their rooms, or the 7am knocking to get them out of their rooms this morning. Back to school on Monday means back to my 10pm bed time for sure!