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Salvos schools program back in full swing

Salvos schools program back in full swing

Salvos schools program back in full swing

23 October 2020

Captain Jeff Milkins teaches students from St Virgils College near Glenorchy, Tasmania, about the work of The Salvation Army as part of the Beyond the Classroom program. People in Tasmania must practise social distancing but are not required to wear masks.

By Jessica Morris

Kids across the country are finally getting back to a school routine – and it’s not just parents and guardians who are breathing a sigh of relief!

Students in Western Australia went back to school in Term 3, and Darren Reynolds (front centre) and his team experienced an outpouring of generosity from schools who wanted to participate in their Beyond the Classroom program.

The Salvation Army Schools Program is also back in full swing, teaching students about compassion through on-site visits and tangible fundraisers. With Term 4 underway, the Army’s school teams in Western Australia and Tasmania (where it is known as Beyond The Classroom), and Victoria, are now back to their normal curriculum after adapting the program during the COVID shutdown. 

“When COVID shut down schools, we asked, ‘How do we work online? How can we support teachers and students during this time?’,” reflects Grace Davidson, the Army’s Schools Engagement Manager in Victoria.

While the rest of us adjusted to working and learning from home, Grace and the teams in Tasmania and Western Australia put aside their vision for an all-encompassing and experiential curriculum and went back to the drawing board.

They needed a structure that provided schools with the basics – teaching them about The Salvation Army, its work and how it supported the community. And it needed to be adaptable, so each state could modify it according to COVID-19 regulations at the time, as well as ensure that all students could equally participate.

The answer was the Social Connection Project – a learning opportunity in response to COVID-19 that encouraged students to channel any isolation or anxiety into kindness and connection.

The free curriculum was made available online for primary and secondary students, based around elements of education, participation and activation. By acting quickly, the national team developed it before Good Friday. The beauty of it was that each state could modify the six-lesson program to appeal to the needs of their students, all while learning how The Salvation Army responded to the needs of others and were given the tools to ‘spread hope’.

Acts of Kindness in WA

With the least amount of COVID cases in Australia, the Army’s Western Australia schools team was able to get back into schools during Term 3. They adapted the Social Connection Project to fit their unique Beyond The Classroom program – enabling them to not only educate students about urban poverty and how they can change it but also support the vulnerable population most affected by COVID-19.

Students in WA got creative with their Social Connection Project and made items to bring joy to the people around them.

Instead of taking students literally ‘beyond the classroom’ to service centres and homelessness hotspots in Perth, the team helped them navigate the realities of homelessness from the schoolyard. This activated a large amount of tangible support from schools, and some schools chose to take on the Social Connection Project for themselves. To fulfil it, each student had to do something nice for others – and the results were beautiful.

“In my social connection project, I made a lot of nice little messages for my mum in a vase for her to read every night,” said one student. Another made some origami animals for their disabled next-door neighbour to bring him joy.

Sleeping out in Tasmania

Tasmanian school students were next to return to their classrooms, and it was much-needed. Multiple schools cancelled bookings due to COVID concerns, but they continued to work on both strengthening existing relationships and establishing new relationships with schools.

Under the leadership of former Tasmanian schools coordinator Ben Hirst, the Red Shield Appeal was an opportunity to engage schools that would usually volunteer to collect at a shopping centre, helping at Bunnings barbeques or join the Digital Doorknock. He helped some Year 12 students organise a virtual fundraiser to celebrate their graduation year with 10 days of activities.

Due to COVID, youth were not able to sleep out at Hobart Corps for the Salvos Sleepout. The schools team still hosted participants for a session, ran educational activities, and made them packs so they could sleepout in their own backyards.

“COVID caused our team to adapt and use our resources according to what was best for our community at the time,” says Amelia Natoli, Public Relations Office Coordinator in Tasmania. “The team did frontline work [with Doorways], which increased their understanding of the hardship many in our community experience.”

Amelia and the team knew that a lack of interaction could cut off an entire year level from knowledge, and access, to The Salvation Army. So, when Tasmania’s annual Salvo Sleepout came up, they stepped up.

“We had a local youth group [participate] in a mini version of Salvos Sleepout. The group usually sleep out at Hobart Corps to support the main fundraising event – instead [due to restrictions] we spoke to them about homelessness in Tasmania, ran educational activities and made them packs with hand-warmers and other useful items so they could participate by spending a night sleeping out in their own backyard,” said Amelia.

“Homelessness in Hobart is an increasing issue. We teach kids how to respond and look at the reasons people are sleeping rough,” she added.

Meanwhile, the Tassie version of Beyond the Classroom is back and running in Term 4, allowing the schools team to bring appropriate activities to the schoolroom so students are connected with the Salvos.

“We adapt our presentations to best suit the schools we are engaging with. Teaching students about issues such as homelessness, services the Salvos offer and the ways they can contribute to help their community,” Amelia said.

Getting innovative in Victoria

As the hotspot for Australia’s COVID cases, the Victorian team has had to move away from their signature Youth Homelessness City Tour and instead focus its attention on providing remote learning resources and maintaining a connection with schools.

Students at Camberwell Grammar School hosted a virtual sleepout to support The Salvation Army. Pictured here is student Annaliese, who learned about homelessness and slept out at home.

“Schools come to us because they love to learn about our work and are seeking social justice education opportunities,” said Grace. “I think that both schools and students are really interested to learn about The Salvation Army’s response to the hardships of 2020 and understand how they can provide support to people during this time.”

During remote learning, Camberwell Girls Grammar School hosted a virtual sleepout in August. Seventy high school students participated over Zoom and learned from Grace about homelessness.

“So many students are missing out on debutante balls and formals, so they organised the sleepout that did facilitate some kind of togetherness,” said Grace. “It was lovely because a lot of the students were in tents and they had set up lamps and furnaces. They were so engaged; it was just beautiful!”

The year 2020 has been full of surprises – and lots of challenges. But The Salvation Army schools teams have adapted and found along the way that schools are more eager than ever to make a difference. We are all in this together.


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