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More than 1,000 schools and 32,000 students throughout New Zealand have signed up to become community guardians, as part of an initiative that will turn classrooms into volunteer armies.

The Student Volunteer Army (SVA) Foundation has launched its second annual primary school programme, one of the largest mobilisations of its kind.

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Individual classrooms have been designated as SVA platoons, tasked with identifying and leading volunteer projects in their local communities. The aim is to facilitate project-based learning and motivate students to think beyond the school gate – creating school-aged community guardians that connect with people and places around them.

Projects in the pipeline or already underway include hosting discos for local elderly residents, cleaning beaches, testing tsunami sirens, compiling packs for refugee families, and making blankets and books for foster children.

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An official event to launch the 2018 programme was held at Auckland's Somerville Intermediate School on Thursday 8 November. Auckland Mayor Phil Goff, local school children and SVA founder Sam Johnson were among those present.

Johnson initiated the programme in 2017, following a request from teachers seeking to adopt the SVA project management model into their curriculum.

The ultimate aim is to encourage New Zealand’s younger generation to become future volunteers.

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“We want to ensure the volunteering spirit is part of a student’s identity,” says Johnson, who was responsible for mobilising tens of thousands of student volunteers to help people affected by the devastating Canterbury earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011. The SVA originated from this movement.

“The primary school programme has been developed to facilitate a unique learning opportunity that is intergenerational, and reflective of individual school values.“It is about stepping back and giving students the reins, letting them take collective action for the care of other people and places in the wider community. We continue to be amazed by the inventive projects that students are coming up with, bearing in mind that many of these kids are only seven or eight years old.”

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The SVA Foundation has partnered with School Kit Ltd, which develops curriculum-based resources for teachers, to make the programme available to primary schools throughout the country.

Teachers are provided with a ‘Volunteer Action Kit’ to develop an SVA primary school platoon in their own classroom. It includes 32 job-based badges bestowing students with a particular role, for example logistics officer, finance officer, storyteller, platoon leader and safety officer. Project cards provide checklists, job descriptions and ideas.

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Each platoon is required to provide photos of their service project and share the impact of their work on social media.

The materials have been developed by specialist teachers and designed to integrate with Years 4-10.

Students from Syndicate A at Somerville Intermediate in Auckland, where the launch took place, are currently organising and brainstorming project ideas. Community and beach clean ups at Mangemangeroa Reserve and Shelly Beach are on the agenda.

“As part of our Authentic Learning Journey, which facilitates real-life learning, students have been encouraged to appreciate the value of participating in their local area,” says Somerville Intermediate teacher Hayley Carter.

“Children need to accept that they don’t have to be passive in the community, and we are encouraging them to be actively engaged. As this dovetails with the Student Volunteer Army ethos, we felt the Primary School Programme was an ideal collaborative opportunity for our students to engage in service to the community.”

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Kylie Power from School Kit says the SVA’s programme is a unique way of empowering and motivating students to get hands-on in their communities.

“The tools in the kit make it easy for students to come up with a unique idea and turn it into reality using the tried and true SVA project management model,” says Power.

“Teachers report that the beauty of the challenge lies in what it draws out of the young people themselves – how they step-up, speak out, solve tricky problems, work as a team and stick to a plan.”

Citycare Group is a primary partner of the 2018 programme. The company’s support is a further demonstration of its commitment to drive community engagement, as seen by its recently-launched Community Guardians scheme.

A collaboration between SVA and Citycare, Community Guardians links thousands of volunteers throughout the country to ensure local projects are delivered and sustained.

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“Citycare’s vision is for better people, better places and better communities,” says Nige Cottingham, EGM Strategy and Growth for Citycare Group, “so we’re excited to play our part in encouraging school kids to engage in active, community-motivated opportunities.

“I have three kids in primary school, and the SVA programme carries a host of underlying fun and educational messages that I know they will engage with and, as importantly, bring home and share with the rest of the family.

“It is social innovation at its best, and we’re delighted to be one of the initiative’s primary partners.