The House the Students Built

Michelle Green, Chief Executive, Independent Schools Victoria, celebrates the work of schools and student volunteers in support of the community.

As followers of Dialogue will have noticed, I have written more than once in recent weeks to challenge criticisms of Independent schools in the media and to correct some of the more persistent stereotypes: that they are elitist and exclusive or that their students are somehow isolated from the ‘real world’.

These stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth.

Victorian Independent schools have a long tradition of building links with their local communities. They work to nurture close relationships that benefit both the students and the wider community. In most schools, this commitment to community service is embedded in the school ethos, its values and philosophy.

And with good reason. Research shows that volunteering is closely associated with greater health and happiness, and that helping others provides meaning, a sense of self-worth and a social role. Students who volunteer during their school years develop more pro-social attitudes, and are more likely to volunteer in their adult life. They learn to think of citizenship as carrying responsibilities as well as rights, and are encouraged to participate in the community.

The theme to this year’s International Youth Day was ‘Youth Civic Engagement’, so it was an opportune time to celebrate the work of student volunteers who support their community in so many ways: visiting homes for the disabled or elderly, assisting with a meals on wheels service, planting native trees and more.

It’s not just local projects, either. Many Independent schools maintain an active and vibrant connection with national and international communities through school-sponsored projects – such as these Year 9 students from Mount Scopus Memorial College constructing a dwelling for a community in Cambodia, pictured above.

Of course, schools can’t take all the credit. Some students just stand out from the crowd: Students like Minaret College captain, Qais Sadat, a passionate advocate for student wellbeing who has served on the Victorian Student Representative Council for the last two years. Or Manon Dennison, from St Catherine’s School, whose commitment to her local community and outstanding leadership skills were recognised with a VCE Leadership Award.

Our schools are anything but isolated and exclusive enclaves of privilege. They are engaged and committed servants of their local communities, and both their students and the broader society are better for it.

Learn more about schools and student volunteer projects on the Independent Schools Victoria Facebook page.

This article first appeared on Dialogue. Visit the blog for other topical education issues.