Radical role-model scheme hits UK

2nd October 2009 at 01:00
Schools sign up to Teach First-style 'corps' initiative to turn young adults into mentors

Britain might be labelled a cynical nation by those across the Atlantic, but teachers are putting their faith in a second mission-led US scheme to hit UK schools with promises that it will transform "whole communities".

A "corps" of role models and assistants will start in primaries after teachers signed up to the unique idea that young people volunteering will transform society.

More than 10,000 people across the globe are part of City Year, a type of community service in which 18 to 25-year-olds offer skills as tutors and mentors to teachers. In exchange they learn about leadership, teamwork and communication.

The project has strong links with the Teach First scheme, which aims to encourage elite graduates into teaching and has been operating in the UK since 2002.

Both schemes started across the Atlantic, are part-funded by the educational trust SHINE, and have a mission-led aim. Teach First staff have given City Year advice on how to recruit youngsters, and it's thought that some of those who have been through the programme might work for the new project.

City Year has been a hit across the US and in Johannesburg, South Africa, and now it's coming to the UK for the first time. From next September, 50 young people will have been trained and be ready to volunteer in six primary schools in Shoreditch, east London.

The group, who will be selected from all backgrounds, will dedicate one year to the programme and work full-time in the schools. It is hoped they will bridge the generation gap between pupil and teacher.

A variety of organisations, including philanthropists, charities and Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, have contributed funding.

The first eight "corps members" will start in January 2010. Their first duty will be applying the American idea to a British environment.

Sophie Livingstone, the scheme's newly appointed chief executive, said: "Although City Year London has been set up as an independent charity, we will be drawing heavily on the 20 years of intellectual capital and experience that has been built up by City Year across 20 US cities and in Johannesburg.

"However, it is also important that we translate the model to the UK context, and we are keen that this is led by young people, in partnership with schools and education leaders, in order to make it as successful as possible in Shoreditch."

Staff from the Private Equity Foundation, a philanthropic fund, say they decided to back the scheme after being struck by its "transformative effect".

Shaks Ghosh, the fund's chief executive, said: "The corps members change the children they work with and the children change the corps members. It's reciprocal. Attendance levels at the schools and behaviour improves and ultimately academic achievement improves. It can make a difference to whole communities."

Each corps member will receive living expenses and take part in one of three programmes: helping teachers provide activities after lessons; encouraging teenagers to volunteer; or leading locals in revitalising community parks and gardens.

THE CITY YEAR VISION

Since 1988, some 12,500 17 to 24-year-olds have worked with two million children for over 20 million hours in the City Year public-private partnership, founded with support from Bank of America, Cisco, PepsiCo, Timberland and T-Mobile.

The scheme has volunteers heading up community-service activities and is being used to tackle the US high-school dropout crisis, with half of students set to leave early invited to join.

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