Sydenham High is selective and diverse, welcoming girls with wide-ranging talents and backgrounds into a close community that is large enough to offer choice and flexibility but compact enough to ensure that no girl is overlooked. Our school motto, Nyle ye Drede, (‘Fear nothing’), lies at the heart of all we do. A Sydenham High education is centred upon the girl, where academic excellence and pastoral excellence go hand in hand. We want our pupils to have a ‘can do’ approach and inner strength so that they are enabled to thrive, succeed and be happy.
School pupil challenges the Prime Minister to fix the digital divide
After a challenging year where everything changed and young people were forced to adapt to an entirely new way of learning, whilst losing precious contact with family and friends, you’d forgive their focus turning inward. But not for Elliott, who, at nine years old, saw a BBC news report about six children in a family trying to complete home schooling on one phone shared between them and decided that something had to be done.
8th March 2021 — After a challenging year where everything changed and young people were forced to adapt to an entirely new way of learning, whilst losing precious contact with family and friends, you’d forgive their focus turning inward. But not for Elliott, who, at nine years old, saw a BBC news report about six children in a family trying to complete home schooling on one phone shared between them and decided that something had to be done.
“I realised there were loads of other people in the world in that situation and I wanted to do something about it in my area at least”, and, ever the embodiment of a Giraffe Girl*, she immediately masterminded a fundraising campaign involving the creation of an activity pack in return for donations towards the funding of laptops for a primary school in south east London.
Using information that she learnt in her downtime through the previous lockdowns plus a selection of topics she hoped that others would enjoy, Elliott set to work creating 40 pages of fun activities just before February half term, ready to fill the void created by lockdown, whilst helping others. In a most impressively professional manner, she set up a website, Instagram and JustGiving page, with the help of her family.
Her fundraising success was beyond anything she could have imagined. She anticipated raising £100 and then, within 3 days, she had raised over £10,000! After consulting a local primary school Head, it was decided that purchasing tablets would mean that Elliott could help more children and so the campaign turned from 24 laptops to 85 tablets. With her enviable charm and tenacity she even managed to get a discount from Lenovo to enable her to spread the donations further. The new target is 100 and we have no doubt she will reach, and surpass, that.
Throughout the interview Elliott exuded positivity and her activity book is no different - you can feel her warmth on every page, from positive quotes to listing your ‘Wow’ moments from each day. Though her own home learning has meant she hasn’t been able to read all the feedback about her activity pack, she knows it is going down well.
Elliott’s family, friends and teachers are incredibly proud, “it's a really great feeling” she beams. Personally, her proudest moment was seeing how happy the first school (Oliver Goldsmith Primary in Peckham) was to receive their 30 tablets: “How happy they sounded when they heard that someone had done something to give them 30 tablets for their school”.
Elliott is aware that not everyone has the time to start initiatives like this but advocates doing whatever you can to make a difference - be that donating to good causes or helping an old lady cross the street. It’s about acts of kindness: “you’ll feel good because you know you’ve helped someone.”
This is not the end for our valiant fundraiser - nor was it the start, as she explains about previous, smaller fundraisers, inspired by watching her mother running marathons for charity and seeing how happy it made people: "I realised I really love helping people."
Elliott has started school on site once more, but she is continuing to fundraise for more tablets as they will still benefit pupils as much infrastructure for learning has moved online over the past year and has another school lined up to receive the next batch.
The future contortionist shared her love of Sophie Dossi and the inspirational motto of marathon runner Dean Kanazes, “run with your heart when your legs get too tired” and mused that perhaps Boris Johnson could do some government fundraising to complement hers. If a nine year old, albeit a very proactive one, can raise over £10,000 surely he can do more to fix the digital divide!
We look forward to the next fundraiser and getting involved as a school, and perhaps the GDST as a whole. With Elliott leading the charge, it is sure to be a huge success.
*Sydenham High Prep School pupils are affectionately known as Giraffe Girls as they aim high, stick their necks out and try new things.
A day for Body, Mind & Soul launched by bestselling author
Bestselling author, Holly Bourne, encouraged pupils to reap the mental health benefits of getting creative when she launched the Body, Mind & Soul Day at Sydenham High School, GDST.
22nd February 2021 — Bestselling author, Holly Bourne, encouraged pupils to reap the mental health benefits of getting creative when she launched the Body, Mind & Soul Day at Sydenham High School, GDST.
The critically acclaimed author gave a powerful talk on positive mental health to the Senior School for the special off-timetable day of enrichment. Holly spoke to students about the importance of understanding the context behind your feelings as well as how you can feel a sense of belonging through reading a good book. In a period of such uncertainty, she also reminded everyone that it’s ok to sit with our feelings for a while, as a key part of the human experience, as well as the value in looking after ourselves, getting enough sleep and being active. Holly closed her presentation with a call to action for Body, Mind & Soul Day for students to find their purpose, find what makes their soul shine and the power of losing oneself in creativity.
Pastoral education at Sydenham is second to none and The Body, Mind & Soul Day was masterminded by staff as a way of encouraging all students to look after both their mental and physical health.
Taking its name from the co-curricular programme at school, the Body, Mind & Soul day was an opportunity for students to develop new skills, take part in fun activities and learn in a different way, outside the classroom but crucially, away from their screens. Members of staff led sessions categorised into the three strands, showcasing their own passions from HIIT to Cryptography, stress ball making to letter writing. There was even a chance to learn how to change a bike’s inner tube and teach your dog a new skill, whilst others opted for meditation and happiness bullet journals. Pupils chose their sessions for the day, and commented that “it was so lovely to have a day to just to slow down, reflect and gather our thoughts”, [Caroline] making the time to focus on something other than school work: "A really refreshing day and break from the seemingly never-ending lock down life." [Tiger] Staff also benefited: "having the opportunity to share something that I enjoy and find relaxing with the students was also an amazing opportunity and allowed me to connect with a group of students I don’t always get the chance to teach" [Head of Sixth Form]
The final session of the day was devoted to GDST Gets Active and pupils were encouraged to clock up those km to increase the Sydenham High school total as well as, of course, getting some much-needed fresh air.
English Teacher, Sally Macdougal, explains how Crisis changed her life and why she encouraged Sydenham High pupils to get involved.
29th January 2021 — I first volunteered with Crisis at Christmas when I was 18 and in the sixth form. People often ask me what inspired me to get involved, and the fact is that I saw a poster in my common room and thought ‘I could do that’. I had no idea what I was getting myself into! My first year was incredibly difficult, I felt very overwhelmed by all of the personal stories that guests were telling me and, as someone who had led a relatively sheltered life, I was not prepared for the profound impact it would have on my life. One of the stories that still affects me is that of a young man, in his late twenties, who had a Mathematics degree from Cambridge and used to work in Canary Wharf. He had been really successful but developed an inoperable eye condition that led to him, after some more bad luck, sleeping on the streets. It was that moment that really made me realise – homelessness could happen to anyone.
Since volunteering with Crisis for the first time I have volunteered with lots of different organisations, but I keep coming back to Crisis. There’s something incredible about a group of strangers coming together for a week or so over Christmas, creating a homeless shelter out of a disused building, running it for 400 people and then all going their separate ways again at the end. Crisis at Christmas is not a soup kitchen, over the course of the week we provide over fourteen different services to our guests including healthcare, podiatry, a salon, legal advice, a dog kennel, arts and crafts, natural healing, opticians, CV writing, and even karaoke. It’s a bustling, energised, fully resourced world for our guests to immerse themselves in for a week. Our advice teams have an incredible success rate in terms of getting guests into long term housing and Crisis helps all guests to access learning and support year-round through their Skylight centre. I’m trying to put into words what it feels like to come into the world of Crisis at Christmas and feel the positivity, the joy and the camaraderie of volunteering but it’s something best described as ‘Crisis magic’. If you want further proof, this was my seventeenth year volunteering with Crisis and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else over Christmas.
2020 was different though. We couldn’t welcome guests with hugs and intimate chats or offer services like hairdressing and dentistry. What we could do though was give every one of our 135 guests their own hotel room for two weeks, a safe and warm place to stay, with three hot meals a day and regular welfare checks. Christmas day was made extra special by a wonderful three course dinner and the generous presents donated by Sydenham students which surprised and overwhelmed our guests. Although some of the ‘buzz’ of the usual centres was lost I feel incredibly proud that we were able to get people off the streets during the harsh weather, offer them emotional and legal support, activities through a brand new app, and still have a fantastic success rate. Based on the information from the housing team who were with us every day, I think my centre helped approximately thirty people get into long term housing this year. That’s thirty people who would otherwise be returning to the street if it hadn’t been for Crisis.
Volunteering with Crisis has been a personal journey for me. I went from being a typically self-absorbed teenager to someone who wanted to make volunteering a central part of their life. I choose a career in teaching because I wanted to make a difference in the world and Crisis helped me to discover that about myself. I would strongly encourage anyone reading this to find something you care about and volunteer, just give it a go even if you aren’t sure because you never know where it might lead you.
Sydenham High alumna calls for support to help bridge the Digital Divide
With the UK once again in lockdown, the importance of digital inclusion has never been so urgent. Sydenham alumna Liz Williams MBE has been working at the cutting edge of this agenda.
22nd January 2021 — With the UK once again in lockdown, the importance of digital inclusion has never been so urgent. Sydenham alumna Liz Williams MBE has been working at the cutting edge of this agenda.
As Chief Executive of FutureDotNow , Liz is coordinating industry action with some of the biggest companies in the UK to get all working age adults equipped with essential digital skills. Today over 17 million adults don’t have the five digital skills defined by the UK Government as essential for life and work. As Group Chair of Good Things Foundation, a social change charity working across the UK and Australia, Liz is helping people improve their lives through digital. As Social Mobility Commissioner for the UK Government where her portfolio centres around digital and the future of work.
In the last lockdown, with the help of the FutureDotNow coalition of companies, Liz set up DevicesDotNow, an emergency campaign that got over 10,000 connected devices in the hands of the most vulnerable individuals and families across the UK.
Liz is calling for a Great Digital Catch Up. The UK is leading the world as a digital nation yet 9 million adults in the UK are not able to use the internet independently. That means millions of people are not able to access the support they desperately need during lockdown. The call is for an investment of £130 million over 4 years in a Great Digital Catch Up scheme (just 2% of superfast broadband infrastructure budget) that will allow 4.5 million more people to be happier, healthier and better off.
“Frontline organisations are in desperate need of digital devices for the vulnerable people in their communities so they can help them stay connected with the outside world. Although DevicesDotNow has delivered 4,270 devices through 349 community partners to date, we have have also secured funding to support 5,921 further people, meaning we have achieved our first goal of supporting 10,000 people.
But this issue isn’t going away and we will be working tirelessly to achieve our next goal of helping 50,000 people. Receiving a tablet with a sim and the associated support that goes with it can make huge, life-changing differences for people and is an important part of our national response, ensuring they can shield effectively and alleviating strain on the NHS.
There are many things you can do to help: find out more about the campaign via the Good Things Foundation website, equally you can write to your MP or donate to the campaign.”
During the first lockdown in 2020, the GDST, reinforced by the efforts of individual schools such as Sydenham High, launched their own response to the digital divide with the GDST Academy Trust Student Support Fund to buy equipment, and provide internet access and other resources for students and their families at the two GDST Academy schools, and to date just shy of £25,000 has been raised by the GDST community.
Sydenham High questions the balance of the curriculum
On Wednesday 4 November, Sydenham High School hosted a live webinar entitled ‘Building a Balanced Curriculum‘, designed to explore how we can ensure a balanced and representative curriculum. Hosted by Hannah Spence and Rachael Vaughan, staff were treated to talks from four organisations: The Migration Museum, The Black Curriculum, Book Love Multicultural Carnival and Fill in the Blanks UK. It was a passionate discussion on how we can ensure that we are providing the best education possible.
6th November 2020 — On Wednesday 4 November, Sydenham High School hosted a live webinar entitled ‘Building a Balanced Curriculum‘, designed to explore how we can ensure a balanced and representative curriculum. Hosted by Hannah Spence and Rachael Vaughan, staff were treated to talks from four organisations: The Migration Museum, The Black Curriculum, Book Love Multicultural Carnival and Fill in the Blanks UK. It was a passionate discussion on how we can ensure that we are providing the best education possible.
Liberty Melly, Education Manager at The Migration Museum discussed how they bring the topic of migration to life for schools, colleges, universities and community groups by exploring the role of migration in Britain’s story. Founded in 2013, The Migration Museum is the first national migration museum and explores how the movement of people to and from Britain across the ages has made us who we are – as individuals and as a nation.. Despite there being over 2000 museums in the heritage sector, migration was notably missing and given that migration is everywhere, it was very telling that it was mostly only discussed in a negative way. The Migration Museum is designed to be a space to step back from divisive and polarised debate to reflect on what migration means on a national and individual level and to prepare pupils to deal with the headlines they will face. Away from negative rhetoric, the museum looks at people’s stories, recognising and valuing migrants without prejudice and raising awareness of local and national history, and how these personal stories connect to wider British history.
Melody Triumph explained the work that The Black Curriculum is doing with schools to promote black history and a more balanced curriculum. The aim is to understand the important of diversity in the curriculum and ensure that black history is embedded year round and not simply during Black History Month. In order to educate and equip pupils it is important to teach about Britain’s history of colonialism, slavery and migration to understand about the many people of different cultures and races in this country. With a history of diversity how can young people navigate the world if they aren’t taught about it? She emphasised that it is for all subjects, not just history, to consistently involve the experiences and contributions of all people and show that they are valued. It is possible to celebrate the abolitionist movement and social justice leaders whilst recognising and criticising colonialism rather than it being an either or situation, you can celebrate and criticise to fully understand the whole story and analyse historical figures critically. To include all pupils, they need to feel that they identify and connect with what they are being taught. Though it might feel daunting to diversify the curriculum properly and not in a tokenistic way, Melody reassured us that we are all learning all the time and it will be an organic process for staff and pupils. It won’t be perfect straight away and requires research and updates but we should focus on highlighting and embedding notable black Britons – historical and contemporary – to value diversity across all subjects, acknowledging different cultures and ethnicities. She cited examples such as library books written by black British people and not just about being black, having an orchestra playing Handel’s Messiah as well as Calypso music. Not every lesson needs to be centred on race but classrooms should be inclusive environments, using inclusive language so pupils engage with their learning and your subject.
Samantha Williams shared some personal reflections of her journey to creating Book Love – the multicultural carnival, from her frustrations from feeling that there wasn’t a platform on which to express stories of her mixed background and her narrative to seeing that her children weren’t experiencing the richness and diversity in school and deciding to do something about it. She noted that it is important to start with young children and expose them to the diversity of the world so she went into schools to read stories about children from all over the world so they saw and heard about black and brown people not just white characters. She then wrote to publishers to ask why books were not being published and not ending up in classrooms. She felt that this approach, working with primary school teachers directly might bring about faster change than waiting for government to change policies and update the curriculum. There is a lot for teachers to unlearn and relearn to ensure that pupils are prepared for the globalised world we live in, but do remember that independent book sellers have some less predictable, very useful resources! It is time to revolutionise the literature our pupils are exposed to and have awareness of all cultures to be respectful citizens.
Antonia Antrobus-Higgins impressively represented her fellow co-founders of Fill in the Blanks UK and told us all about their challenge to change the KS3 national curriculum to include the study of Empire. Inspired by their social justice fellowship at the Advocacy Academy, a training programme for activism, six sixth formers (two are now in further education) began their journey to fight for the teaching of how Empire shaped the development of Britain, so that there is a critical understanding of Empire in the public consciousness – not just the positives but both sides. She spoke passionately about the lack of understanding about race as a construct designed to subjugate parts of society, not a biological status and therefore the entrenched lack of understanding of systemic racism. As part of their campaign, they organised a radical takeover of free commuter newspapers with 5000 spoofs of the Metro and Evening Standard saying that the UK had mandated the teaching of colonial history and colonial legacy in Britain and rewriting the standard adverts and sports coverage to be more representative. This sparked a meeting invitation from Nick Gibb MP; however, this was postponed and now they have a petition with 260, 000+ signatures as the minister has rescinded his offer. There is a template to contact Nick Gibb MP, as well as other suggestions for activism on their website should you wish to support their campaign. The group is fighting for the teaching of the uncomfortable aspects of Britain’s past and how to talk critically about race and its construction and would like to impact policy through creating and monitoring lesson plans for schools.
The webinar was hugely inspiring and reiterated the importance of the curriculum being reflective, inclusive and just. It came about in part from Sydenham High School Pupil Voice and we are committed to continually learning about unconscious bias, how to be anti-racist, and educating our young people to be positive and empowered global citizens.
October was an even busier month than usual for alumna Sigourney Bell or ‘Siggy’ (Class of 2009). Not only is she a 2nd year PhD student at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge, she is also the co-founder of Black In Cancer, an organisation which aims to strengthen networks and highlight Black excellence in cancer research and medicine. Black in Cancer ran a week of events from 11 – 17 October across social media platforms highlighting the contributions of Black researchers, physicians and patient advocates working in cancer research and medicine.
2nd November 2020 — October was an even busier month than usual for alumna Sigourney Bell or ‘Siggy’ (Class of 2009). Not only is she a 2nd year PhD student at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge, she is also the co-founder of Black In Cancer, an organisation which aims to strengthen networks and highlight Black excellence in cancer research and medicine. Black in Cancer ran a week of events from 11 – 17 October across social media platforms highlighting the contributions of Black researchers, physicians and patient advocates working in cancer research and medicine.
After completing A Levels in Biology, Chemistry and Physics at Sydenham High School in 2009, Sigourney gained her undergraduate degree from the University of Leeds in Human Physiology, then went on to work for both Pfizer and AstraZeneca in Neuroscience and Oncology respectively. Her PhD research centres on developing novel models and therapeutics for paediatric brain tumours, more specifically supratentorial ependymoma. But outside of her research, Sigourney is equally passionate about scientific outreach and encouraging the next generation of Black students into STEM subjects:
“This period has seen the beginning of critical changes for the Black community and it is so important to continue this momentum. This time is about acknowledging and celebrating the contributions that Black people have made to the UK, which can often go unnoticed.”
So what does Black In Cancer hope to achieve?
“We wanted to create an all inclusive community,” explains Sigourney in a recent interview with Forbes Magazine online
“Research within the lab is not the only way we can work towards more people surviving cancer. Within the Black community, we need more cancer education as well as to build those support networks for those with cancer. Our aim was to create a holistic environment to network, support and educate all Black people that either work in or are affected by cancer,” she added. Black people with cancer often experience huge disparities in survival, provision of care and access to clinical trials for experimental treatments.
She co-founded Black In Cancer along with fellow research scientist; Dr Henry J. Henderson III, a postdoctoral researcher at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Together, they head up an extensive organising committee of researchers and physicians who scheduled several online events during the week. Sponsored by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Tigerlily Foundation and Cancer Research UK, they covered topics from career advice and networking to cancer advocacy and survival disparities. The week was a huge success with 80.5 million impressions on twitter and a number of sponsors hoping to continue this work moving forward.
What impact do the organizers hope that Black In Cancer Week will have going forward?
“We hope that people will feel more knowledgeable about cancer and more empowered about their health decisions. We hope that researchers are able to find and build their network and that young Black STEM students are able to see what they are able to aspire to,” said Bell, adding that future plans include cancer education initiatives and also mentorship programmes for students both in the US and the UK.
We were delighted to welcome Sigourney back to judge the finalists of the 2020 #700STEMChallenge writing competition at school in March. She had the task of judging the Engineering category and had some inspiring words to say to the finalists from the fourteen schools from across the UK. We hope to see her back at school again soon.
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