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Over the Fence project wins award for Hamilton student

Over the Fence project wins award for Hamilton student

Finding 300 teenage volunteers to give up a lunchtime may sound challenging.

It took Hamilton high schoolers half an hour.

A St Paul’s Collegiate School project, dubbed Over the Fence Ministry, links students from the private secondary school with kids at nearby, lower decile primaries during lunchtime.

Student Serena Lim-Strutt, 17, is a driving force behind it and has won a Youth Week 2016 giving back award for her work.

The kids won over the St Paul’s Collegiate head of mission and outreach the first time she visited the schools.

"They don't know you or anything, but they'll come and hug you and ask you to play with them," she said.

"The first time I went over there were about 20 kids just surrounding us."

A video of that visit helped convince the rest of the school to get involved when Serena and co-chair of service Rudi Grace gave a presentation at assembly.

In the next half-hour, they collected more than 300 sign-ups.

"We were expecting 20 to 30. Fifty max," Serena said.

Since early May 2016, 20 to 30 students have headed to Bankwood and Fairfield primaries three lunchtimes a week to spend time with the kids, for buddy reading and play sport.

The St Paul’s students get as much out of it as their younger counterparts, Serena said, which is the idea of transformational – rather than transactional – service.

"We wanted to do something that didn't involve just handing over money but rather doing something that would actually benefit both people equally."

St Paul’s Collegiate’s Reverend James Stephenson agreed.

"We're not trying to claim that this is purely altruistic. There’s so much for our students to gain from going over the fence."

Serena turned down a student head of house position to focus on the Over the Fence Ministry, he said.

"By the time she came back at the beginning of the [2016 school] year she had her plans in her head and she just needed help mobilising it."

Headmaster Grant Lander said the programme gave students a buzz and made them feel useful.

"We recognise that as a community we're privileged. We have got amazing facilities, we have got excellent parental support networks and and we're in a high achieving environment," he said.

"We didn't want to have a group of students that didn't have an appreciation of what they've got and also recognition of what other people and the situation that they're in."

St Paul’s Collegiate hopes to keep adding to its support of the local schools, depending on what they need and ask for.

That could be students helping with sport coaching, better access to St Paul’s resources or the school kitchen supporting breakfast or lunch programmes, for example.