St. Michael’s Primary School in Melbourne is a multicultural school, full of students whose families are working hard to make a fresh start in a new country after leaving homes in places like Eritrea, Sudan, Vietnam and Chile. Many students speak English as a second language, or come from homes where no English is spoken. The school is part of the Smarter Schools National Partnerships, an Australian government initiative that supports schools of low socio-economic status.
When IBM Business Operations Professional and Web Designer Amanda Farquhar’s daughter started school at St. Michael’s, Amanda had a yearning to pitch in and help the students, many of whom had limited access to a computer at home and struggled with literacy and IT skills.
"Getting involved with my kids is always important to me, but I think volunteering at a school that has students who are struggling for exposure to IT makes me ask myself, ‘what can I do to help?’" Amanda says. "I feel like I can make a real difference to these kids."
An opportunity to give back
In 2011, Amanda began to devote spare time to the students at St. Michael's, assisting with prep level literacy for children who spoke English as a second language, enabling the classroom teacher to spend more time running focused reading groups and increasing one-on-one time with students. She dedicated three months to helping one non-English speaking student with literacy. She helped supervise the school’s Community Junior Football Skills Clinic, where many students experienced Australian Rules Football for the first time.
In Australia, Amanda Farquhar volunteers and finds resources for St. Michael’s Primary School.
In September 2011, Amanda presented IBM's Puppy Palace Activity Kit - a workshop giving students classroom exposure to project management through the building of a simple paper dog house. The activity allows the students to go through the steps of finding an idea, making a plan, executing that plan and then checking their execution of the plan. “The kit was easy to use," explains Amanda. "I had access to lots of soft toy dogs from my kids’ collection. The class I worked with really enjoyed having a toy dog to work with."
"One of the kids ran up to me at the end of the session and said, ‘Miss Amanda, that was the best activity all term!’" Amanda says. "I felt good about myself, and fortunate that I was working for a company like IBM that had provided me with an opportunity to give back to my school community."
In March 2012, an IBM Community Grant provided a KidSmart Young Explorer unit – which is an all-in-one simple computer system – and other IT software and hardware that was placed in the school’s library so the entire school has access to the unit. This gives St. Michael’s students wider access to technology, helps them to develop IT skills, and supports and stimulates inquiry learning. The donated resources help to improve the reading abilities and writing skills of students, to promote and broaden school partnerships, and to provide opportunities for parent education.
Amanda will continue to lead the way as a volunteer, devoting her spare time to students at St. Michael’s.
"I can’t let down my ‘fans’ who have asked me to come back next school term," she says. "I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in what you want to achieve for yourself or your own family. You can get on a cycle of ‘What’s in it for me?’ without even realizing it. Volunteering at St. Michael’s has been rewarding for me in many different ways."