02.08.2023 Educator Insights Student Success Story

“Their voice matters” – First Give at Ark Elvin Academy

This year, Ark Elvin Academy’s First Give Final left us feeling inspired by the presenting students who reflected the diverse population within Brent. The exemplary Final had external judges that were inspired by the students’ social action projects and presentations. It was clear that the First Give programme supported the students in developing new skills such as presenting with confidence, and speaking out on matters that are important to them. We look forward to continuing our long-lasting partnership with Ark Elvin Academy and can’t wait to see what the students come up with next year. Read the full blog to hear from students, teachers, judges, and facilitators involved in First Give at Ark Elvin Academy!

Ark Elvin Academy serves students from the heart of Brent, one of the most diverse boroughs in London. In July of this year, they held their First Give Final, welcoming two local councilors and First Give Deputy Director Isaac Jones, to hear from their Year 9 students about the work they had carried out in support of local charities.

All of Brent’s diversity was evident throughout the Final, as students from all backgrounds and heritages stood to present on behalf of their class and their chosen charity. The highlight of each First Give Final is always different, and here at Ark Elvin, the judges were perhaps most impressed by the courage and confidence of all the presenting students. Presenting in front of an audience is one of the biggest fears of adults in the UK, but here were students with additional learning needs; students with English as an additional language and students who had previously been selectively mute speaking in front of their full  year group.

The lead teacher of the First Give programme at Ark Elvin, Demi Austin told us:

This project has been so important for our students. It has given them a structure to develop a whole range of skills, particularly around collaboration, team working and of course public speaking. But perhaps more importantly it’s given students who wouldn’t normally put themselves out there the confidence to know that they can contribute. That their voice matters and that they can make change.

Demi Austin, Lead Teacher, Ark Elvin Academy

Through their participation in the First Give programme it was evident that students had been inspired by the work of local charities, and had grown in confidence as a result. Our facilitator Jo told us how important it had been to work with the students ahead of the Final in a Presentation Skills Workshop.

At the workshop, students had the opportunity to develop those all important skills of presenting in front of an audience. The students at Ark Elvin were very attentive throughout the workshop and showed each other great respect when rehearsing and giving feedback, which led to a significant improvement across the board. These skills will serve them well throughout the school careers and beyond.

Jo, First Give Facilitator

But the First Give programme is about more than skill development. It is also about how young people can reflect on their own role in the community. Associate Principal Sarah Donachy reflected that:

It’s so important that our students have the opportunity to think about their role in the community, and First Give has provided an amazing platform for them to do exactly this. I was particularly impressed by the maturity of our students in selecting some really challenging social issues that they felt they wanted to address. Seeing our students grow in their confidence to work in a team; to speak up about what matters to them and take action to make a difference has been brilliant. We are already looking forward to next year’s programme and thinking about ways we can give students even more leadership opportunities.

Sarah Donachy, Associate Principal, Ark Elvin Academy

At every First Give Final we invite guests from the local community to sit on the panel as VIP judges. Councillors Abdi Aden and Ishma Moeen were given a rapturous welcome by students as they were introduced, and were suitably impressed by the student’s hard work and maturity.

Councillor Moeen told us:

I want to make sure they continue to connect with the charities they’ve chosen. They have taken the initiative and we want to support them to continue.

Abdi Aden, Councilor, First Give Judge

In this way we hope that First Give creates new connections with the community, led by young people and their priorities.

To close this account, it is important to include the voices of the young people themselves. When reflecting on the benefits of taking part in the First Give programme, one of the groups told us:

Doing First Give has educated us on topics and issues we didn’t know much about and has helped us personally improve our oracy skills…We have learned to work as a team and build our confidence.

Students, Ark Elvin Academy

As part of their social action, the winning class had written letters to local and national politicians. As they spoke about this, they proudly presented the judging panel with the response they received from Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak’s office. Sarah Donachy told us how important this was for them. The response provided further validation that their voice matters. They told us:

At first, It was difficult because we were nervous. It was quite challenging to do research because our social issue was unemployment and we found it hard to find information, but we helped each other and worked together. Doing First Give has really helped us with our confidence. When we wrote the letters to MPs, we were not sure if they would respond but we were really pleased when we got a reply from the Prime Minister’s office.

Winning Class, Ark Elvin Academy

Through their hard work and commitment, their chosen charity Resurgo has won the First Give grant of £1,000 and will be able to put the money towards their vital employability programmes in Brent. They told us that the grant “will make a lasting difference to the young people we work with and to all we can achieve in the year ahead.” We hope the whole experience will support all students at Ark Elvin Academy to know that, as their teachers said, “their voice matters.”