Just before 3pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a small group of volunteers from Parliamentary Service can be found preparing afternoon tea at Glenview School in Cannons Creek, Porirua. The bell rings, and the classroom fills with children, ranging from age five to eight, eying up the spread of apples, mandarins, biscuits, and sometimes even pineapple. Homework Club is now in session.
Homework Club teams up businesses with low decile schools, creating the opportunity for students to interact with the volunteers, learn new skills and become excited about learning. A handful of staff from a pool of around forty people from all over Parliamentary Service volunteer each week, from librarians to people in finance and IT. This makes it a good way “to connect with people in different roles who you wouldn’t usually work with” Debra, one of the volunteers explains. This partnership has now been running for three years, and the volunteers and school alike love it. The principal, Lynda Knight De Blois says “The kids really enjoy it. We actually have a waiting list!”
Following afternoon tea, the group of around thirty students and five volunteers head over to the school’s library, where they spend twenty minutes reading. Scattered on cushions and couches, some of the volunteers read to the children, while some of the children show off their reading prowess to the volunteers. “Kids thrive on attention”, Debra says, “for someone who would find it quite hard to read, it’s quite nice they can read to someone without being told they don’t know a word”. Because the volunteers don’t assume the roles of teachers, they are able to create a relaxed environment, where the children can get excited about learning and can enjoy reading.
Children can continue reading or do other learning and creative activities. Volunteers and children also connect through playing basketball (cricket in summer), do artwork, bake cupcakes and once a term make pizza. These activities created a “wonderful atmosphere” where the children “share with each other” and have fun. This allows the children and volunteers to become close. “We have our favourites and they have theirs” Debra explains, because “the kids get to know your names” and start to ask their teachers “when is so and so coming in?”. “It’s about the interaction with a diverse group of people who are good role models.” Lynda says. “Every December” Debra explains, “the whole school comes in to Parliament and sings songs, the education centre puts on activities then lunch is provided” for the children. “Last year, they sang to our PM Jacinda [Ardern], spoke with the former PM, Hon Bill English and also met Rt Hon John Key walking up the stairs”.
“Jacinda came over to the kids and talked with them, which they were very excited by.”
At 4:30, it’s home time, for both the children and the volunteers. Debra says “the hour goes really quickly”, and “every time you come back you always feel good … you know you’ve done something … you know where your giving is going”. This seems especially true for some of the younger volunteers, according to Debra. She also says “no one should be that busy” not to give their time. “You give them your time, but they give back theirs too”.