We announced First Story’s new Young Ambassadors programme with much excitement in autumn 2020. At that time, we had no idea what lay ahead in terms of the impacts of the pandemic; contending with strict year group bubbles, students sent home periodically, and oscillating between online and in person learning, our plans for the pilot of Young Ambassadors have certainly been tested!
Our new Young Ambassadors programme has been created to offer a second year of support and opportunities to the most engaged students in First Story groups, once our flagship Young Writers Programme comes to an end. In consultation with teachers, it has been conceived by First Story’s Head of Learning as a three-part modular course, to be delivered over three terms, focusing on developing leadership, events and mentoring skills, as well as gaining insights into creative careers.
Though we originally planned to have eight schools take part in the pilot project, we are pleased that First Story students at five partner schools have been able to take advantage of our new provision, during the exceptionally challenging academic year 2020/21.
Part 1: leadership coaching
Rachel Connor is a senior lecturer in creative writing at Leeds Beckett University and former First Story Writer-in-Residence. She’s also a qualified and experienced leadership coach. We commissioned Rachel to help us develop and deliver a module of the Young Ambassadors programme that aims to nurture young leaders.
Rachel’s first online session with participants focused on motivation and ‘dreaming big’, through which she posed questions such as: What sorts of leaders do you want to be? Why do you want to be leaders? How do you think planning an event will help you develop leadership skills? And what skills do you hope to develop?
Part 2: planning an event
We next challenged our Young Ambassadors to stage their own events in their schools to celebrate creative writing as part of June’s National Writing Day. To support them, we invited Katy Cattell, Director of Communications at Hachette Kids, to deliver an online presentation on marketing and events promotion. Katy’s session focused on media engagement and also stressed how good leaders must have faith in their plans, to be able to communicate effectively and get people excited.
Part 3: pitching and presentation
The Young Ambassadors were tasked to pitch their event plans to a panel of teachers and First Story writers, who provided detailed, constructive feedback. Participants also connected with each other, sharing their thoughts on each other’s ideas and offering practical tips. This pitching session left everyone on the panel inspired by the young people’s scale of ambition, creativity and energy.
YA events for National Writing Day
Our YAs at Landau Forte school in Derby organised a ‘Year 9 Poetry Slam’ featuring workshops from one of the YAs herself, Priya Gill, plus five local professional writers — Jamie Thrasivoulou, Sophie Sparham, Tamika Steadman, Emteaz Hussain and Sian Tower.
The YAs at Haven High Academy had planned a school-wide creative writing event, in which each English class in each year group was given a scroll to write on, prompted by a single word i.e. someone in the class had to write a sentence starting with the given word, then pass the story on to another student, who would then write a sentence starting with the previous students’ last word.
At Priory Witham school, our YAs planned a picture-based writing activity. Students from all year groups were given a happy image and a sad image. If the image was happy, they had to write a dark/sad story, and vice versa.
Hull Trinity House’s YAs ran an activity based on ‘silly sentences’, aimed at all year groups, in which every student in every English lesson had to write a sentence on an agreed theme, placing their sentence in a hat. An English teacher then randomly selected sentences out of the hat and typed them together to make a story.
Our YAs at Coop Academy Grange had planned an event based around the results of a survey which asked each year group: What is your preferred writing format? Whichever format was the most beloved by that year group would become the focus of their English lesson on National Writing Day, with activities prepared in advance by the YAs.
Part 4: review and reflection
In the fourth group session, we brought the YAs at all participating schools back together for a review. Participants shared successes and reflections, both on the events they had organised and in terms of their skills development. What kinds of leaders had they proved themselves to be? What life skills had they accrued by virtue of taking on such a massive project? Rachel Connor led this reflective learning session and also supported the YAs to write creatively on the theme of what leadership means to them:
I Am a Leader
I am Jodie.
I am a leader who believes
that you need chaos in order
to become collected.
I am a leader who wants people
to tell me straight
if I’ve made a mistake.
I am a leader who needs someone there
to bring me up when I need it.
I have learned to be more picky
in my choices.
I am a leader who commits
to having a good time all the time.
I am a leader who will always try
I am a leader who believes in equality
I want you to know that it’s okay
okay to be flamingo among pigeons
okay to be an ant sometimes
lost, seemingly small, but ready for teamwork
whenever your team needs
okay to be the lion among sheep.
I am a leader who needs confidence but demands respect
who has learned to project my voice
(literally, year 9s can be incredibly opinionated)
who has learned to inspire
who has inspired to learn
who commits to a promise: the promise to commit
solace through the thick and the thin
who will match your grin and attract your win.