Day 14 of lockdown, and BBC Radio Sheffield invited me on the airwaves to chat about the inventive ways alumni are offering remote support to current students during the COVID 19 outbreak.
Just because school gates are closed doesn’t mean alumni are no longer able to help. Our schools and colleges have come up with impressive ideas to harness the wealth of talents of their alumni as support for students now at home.
As a former Headteacher, I know this will be a stressful time for students already anxious about the transition to working life and higher education and, lower down the school, deciding which GCSEs to take and missing out on teaching time. Their pressure is increased because everything came to such an abrupt end when schools suddenly closed. No time to say goodbye. No time to take stock and plan.
Presenter Becky Measures and I chatted about how life is not linear; problems come along and force our direction to change in ways we don’t anticipate. So hearing from alumni who have overcome challenges and gone on to achieve success is an important life lesson. Students need to constantly strive, push outside their comfort zones and learn to cope in the face of adversity. That resilience is a skill that develops their confidence and ability to problems solve. Setbacks need not mean the end of ambition. They can be overcome.
Other students will be struggling at home, isolated from teachers and friends and lacking emotional support. Some may not even have the right technology to learn at home. Knowing someone cares and understands is valuable.
Many of our schools have hundreds of alumni registered so there is a wide resource of experience and goodwill out there and schools are eager to tap into that. One school is asking alumni to record videos of challenges they faced in their career to show to students who will have chance to ask questions in a follow up video.
Bluecoat Academy in Nottingham wants tips for students feeling under-prepared for university so we’re arranging for alumni who have already been back for school assemblies on higher education preparation to share their advice.
In Cambridgeshire, Neale-Wade Academy has asked alumni for insight into life in lockdown, particularly from key workers on the front line in the battle against Coronavirus. Bottisham Village College is collating alumni career stories as a video for its online newsletter.
In Richmond on Thames, Waldegrave School is gathering alumni profiles to put on their website as inspirational role models. Some schools want practical activities and Grey Coat Hospital School in Westminster has asked alumni for easy store cupboard recipes alongside career pathways and advice. City of Norwich School have reached out for support in the form of donations of old laptops which could be repurposed for disadvantaged students who do not have the necessary technology to access work at home.
And former students themselves are suggesting ways they can get involved. One alumnus who happens to be a novelist offered students a free download of one of their amusing novels, just to help keep up spirits. They’ve also given music students a chance to set lyrics to a song the alumnus composed and, since the alumnus is bilingual, a chance to translate a song from French to English.
So a big thank you to our 250,000 alumni. So many of you are offering support and we know it is appreciated.
And when life returns to normal and classrooms welcome students back again, schools will have grown a sustainable legacy of volunteer support. This will continue to prove to students they can succeed in a career of their choice, regardless of their background.
Because the future is still there.
Sign up to volunteer and offer support your old school or college.