Student volunteers pay it forward

“Pay it forward” initiatives at Howard S. Billings High School gave two Secondary V classes a volunteer experience they won’t soon forget. One class used an Entrepreneurship Day theme to mentor grade 6 students and introduce them to their future high school. The other class donated a day of their time to a nearby elementary school.

Last fall, teacher Janet Reid wanted her two Secondary V Ethics and Religious Culture classes to broaden their life experience through volunteering. “Many youth have little sense of community,” she says. “The experience of volunteering is one way to help them realize the satisfaction and importance of community for their futures.” 

The Entrepreneurship Day mentors with teacher Janet Reid (far right).

The Entrepreneurship Day mentors with teacher Janet Reid (far right)

She worked with Tom Muirhead, a GOAL consultant at New Frontiers School Board, to make it happen. As a first in-class activity, they had the students watch and discuss the film Pay it Forward. Then, they arranged for a young Châteauguay resident and active volunteer to come and speak to the students.

“We wanted to get across the notion that volunteer activities stand tall on a CV because they describe character, not simply work experience,” says Tom. Their goal was to have each class undertake its own volunteer project. This past March and April, that goal was realized.


“Volunteer activities stand tall on a CV because they describe character.”


An Entrepreneurship Day for grade 6 students from Mary Gardner School, St. Willibrord School and Harmony Elementary provided a volunteer opportunity for one of the ERC classes. The day’s activities were to unfold in the high school’s library, cafeteria and auditorium, and the task of the Billings students was to welcome the younger kids to their future high school and accompany them on their entrepreneurial journey.

Cleaning up the St. Wilibrord grounds

Cleaning up the St. Willibrord grounds

“Your job is to mentor”

 Initially the senior students were skeptical of their ability to lead younger children when they didn’t know much about entrepreneurship. “So we ran them through the entrepreneurial process,” says Tom. “Then we explained to them: ‘Your job isn’t to repeat the entrepreneurship exercise. Your job is to coach, mentor and encourage grade 6 students who will be in a strange building, working with kids from other schools they have never met.’” 


“Take a good look at each other…”


The Billings students rose to the challenge. On a March morning, they greeted the grade 6 classes as they arrived and helped them find their predetermined teams, which reflected a mix of schools and entrepreneurial abilities. (The elementary students had already been introduced to the concept of entrepreneurship in their respective schools and had each chosen one area—product development, pricing, marketing, advertising—that they wanted to focus on.) 

Inspired by bright pink sunglasses, a water bottle, an old set of headphones and other fun objects that they pulled from a grab bag, the teams spent the rest of the day developing and presenting what they hoped would be a prize-winning product and entrepreneurial plan. Two senior students were part of each team. 

Budding entrepreneurs with “super-duper, high-tech” glasses

Budding entrepreneurs with “super-duper, high-tech” glasses

A powerful moment occurred at the end of the day when the grade 6 classes were gathered in the auditorium and the Secondary V mentors were called up on stage. “Take a good look at each other,” Tom told the students. “In three months, you older students will be leaving your high school to begin your post-secondary journeys. And in another five months, those of you in grade 6 will be starting your high-school careers here. And in five years’ time, you may be standing on this same stage helping another group of grade 6s make the transition to high school.” 

There was complete silence as each set of students absorbed the fact that they were each on the threshold of a new stage in their development.

Services for a day

Meanwhile, Janet Reid’s other ERC class was planning its own volunteer day in April. Instead of bringing elementary students to high school, they went to the elementary school—in this case, nearby St. Willibrord’s—and offered their services for a day. 

While one group of students helped teachers out in their classrooms, others got busy cleaning out, organizing and colour-coding the school secretary’s supply room. A third set of Billings students worked with the special education teacher to reclaim a therapy room that was no longer in use. At the end of the day, that teacher had a “dream room” that she could use with her special needs’ students.

Supply room Volunteers ham it up for the camera.

Supply room volunteers ham it up for the camera.

The last group of volunteers spent their day bringing the school’s front lawn back to life. They raked and bagged leaves and picked up garbage. St. Willibrord’s principal, Lynn Claude, was so pleased with the results, she came out and hugged them. 

At lunch, all of the volunteers joined the kindergarten students and served them pizza in their classroom.

A teacher’s dream come true

A teacher’s dream come true

Helping young minds understand the choices and opportunities open to them as they move from elementary, to high school—and beyond—is a key aspect of GOAL. In “paying it forward” to their former elementary schools, the Secondary V students stretched their abilities and gained one more experience they can use to illuminate their own transition to post-secondary life.

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