How one school mobilised a whole community
By Roz Wilson
This article originally appeared on Virgin on 28 December 2015
To raise the £250,000 needed to develop a new playground, Millfields Community School in Hackney, London, knew they required a more ambitious approach than traditional fetes and bake sales. With 640 pupils, Millfields is one of the largest primary schools in the borough, yet it has the smallest outside space and their young changemakers are demanding a radical change.
At the heart of this Ashoka Changemaker School is the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Millfields is a beacon level 2 UNICEF Rights Respecting School, and through the process of achieving their award formed a long-standing association with UNICEF UK. The children at Millfields are from a large number of ethnic backgrounds, including many families of recently arrived immigrants. The school provides a welcoming environment for all the community and the children feel strongly that diversity is something to be celebrated. Millfields teaches its children that they have the power to make changes by engaging in projects and speaking up when they are confronted by injustice or inequality.
It is for this reason that I thought it would be too self-indulgent to just raise money for a better playground. Such was the children’s compassion for the many suffering in Syria lacking even the most basic human rights, that we decided that the school would donate some of the money raised for the playground to the UNICEF Sing for Syria appeal.
In 2013, our close relationship with the local community made it possible to record, promote and release on iTunes an original Christmas song called C.H.R.I.S.T.M.A.S. The song was written by local retired teacher, Jonathan Hart, who donated the royalties to the school. Previously Education Director at UNICEF, Jonathon was delighted to be involved in the project when he discovered that the children wanted to support the UNICEF Sing for Syria appeal.
As Head of Music, I collaborated with a parent-led group to organise the recording. We had our visiting music teachers playing the instrumentals, Jonathan Hart on the keyboard, and we recorded every single class of children singing. With the addition of some harmonies from the choir and some soloists, the single was ready for release on the December 9th 2013. Two parents produced two videos of this process – the first about the making of the single, and the second the final recording of the song.
The results of this single went far beyond what anyone first imagined: it reached No1 in the UK iTunes Children’s’ Chart in the week before Christmas and thanks to a company gifting their employees our single, managed to be No 1 in New Zealand on Christmas day. The choir promoted the song on Radio 5 live and local radio stations. It was sang at the UNICEF UK annual carol concert in Westminster, as well as at Westfields Stratford and at the Hackney Town Hall.
Perhaps the greatest success of this project is the effect it had on our children. Many of the parents and staff told us how much the recording of the single boosted their children’s self-esteem, increased their sense of pride in their school and strengthened their belief in their ability to make a change.
This article was written by Roz Wilson, Head of Music and PSHCE at Millfields Community School, an Ashoka Changemaker School. Ashoka Changemaker Schools are disrupting the education system and teaching skills from empathy to entrepreneurialism.