Courage and initiative Education

Raising the bar on the three Rs

Homework Help Club founder Stacey Shortall at Holy Family School
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Wellington lawyers are helping children with reading, maths and homework through Homework Help Clubs that connect workplaces and lower decile schools.

The first club began in 2014 when MinterEllisonRuddWatts law firm partner Stacey Shortall phoned Holy Family School in Cannons Creek, Porirua.

After more than a decade working in New York, in 2014 Stacey returned to a New Zealand that appeared more multicultural, but which felt less diverse.

At the same time she read media reports about a growing gap between good and poor readers, and the value of reading stories with children.

As a mother of school-age children, she knew it was challenging to fit in stories and homework.

Taking up the challenge

“Driving to work one morning in early 2014, I just had an idea of offering to support a homework club at a local primary school.

“Many of my law firm colleagues seemed open to helping out and I thought that contacting a school in Cannons Creek, Porirua might enable our firm to get to experience firsthand a community environment that we did not otherwise have an opportunity to visit.

“I was also familiar with several volunteer projects in Manhattan that had people working professional jobs help children in schools with their reading.

“I thought there might be value in that kind of approach in New Zealand, plus I felt it could be very valuable to my colleagues and others working similar jobs to be reminded of the talent and potential that exists in schools around our country, regardless of location.

With the legal profession, in particular, in mind, I was also hoping that supporting a homework club might be one step towards potentially having more diverse people become lawyers so that we start to better reflect all communities.

“Accordingly, when I arrived at work that morning, I looked at the Ministry of Education website for decile one primary schools in Cannons Creek and saw the name Holy Family School. After checking the phone book for their number, I simply called the school – and that’s how it all started.”

“We were lucky enough to receive the call and we took the opportunity with both hands,” says principal of Holy Family School Chris Theobald.

Partnership programme

Firms, businesses and organisations are partnered with participating primary schools.

The aim is to increase their study and job prospects, and Stacey is still involved in the Holy Family School club.

The programme is simple: a school makes available classroom or library space for students to gather to work on their reading, maths and homework, and a group of volunteers spends an hour a week helping them with their schoolwork.

It’s a two-way project as the children are exposed to the wider world and the volunteers make connections with the community.

Volunteer Liz Baker with a student at Holy Family School

At Holy Family School, some of the children have visited Stacey’s law firm and learned about the work they do.

Chris Theobald says the children “really enjoy the sessions with the lawyers” and also enjoyed visiting their offices in Wellington.

School staff run the club until the lawyers arrive, and spend an hour helping the children with reading and maths.

Chris says the school has a strong careers focus “and contact with the lawyers fits in with that”. Some students are talking about studying law, he says.

The club started off on one day a week, and was so successful it expanded to three. School staff supervise the extra two days. About a third of the school’s 230 pupils take part in the club.

Chris says many of their parents work long hours, often at two jobs, and appreciate the work put into the homework club.

The seniors are regularly taken on daytime careers trips and the school runs an annual careers option evening for years 1-6.

Stacey says that having an opportunity to regularly spend time with some of the “wonderful children who will be the future leaders of our country” is invaluable.

I always come away from Homework Help Club feeling inspired and positive about the potential for New Zealand to continue to succeed.”

Homework Help Club founder Stacey Shortall is still involved in the Holy Family School club. Photos: Lindsay Keats Photography

The firm’s Auckland office now runs a club too.

Hugo Charitable Trust has provided financial support to assist in the growth of Homework Help Clubs.

“Hugo’s commitment to our project and kids around New Zealand is simply wonderful,” says Stacey.

The trust now has some funding for paid help to deliver the project.

Most of the 12 homework clubs established to date are in the Wellington and Auckland regions, but the trust hopes to expand them to Christchurch, Hamilton, Whangarei and Tauranga.

The long-term goal is to provide a club for every school that wants one.

Homework Help Club and two related projects – HelpTank and the Mothers Project – come under the umbrella of registered charity Who Did You Help Today?

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For more information:

Go to the Homework Help Club website click here

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