Bermuda High School’s Round Square Day
Posted: 31 July 2018
Round Square Rep, Frances Cook, outlines how a change in format to the school’s Round Square Day has allowed students to better realise the spirit of the IDEALS, whilst helping embed Round Square deeper into the fabric of school life.
Author and position: Frances Cook, Round Square Coordinator, Teacher of IB Diploma Biology and Science
School: Bermuda High School (BHS) is an IB day school based in the city of Hamilton serving 636 girls from 4- 18 years old, Boys 16-18. It is 123 years-old and is the only girls’ school on the island.
Bermuda High School (BHS) has run Round Square Days since the school became a global member in 2005. In recent years, however, the school has changed the format to better reflect the spirits in the IDEALS.
In its previous guise, Round Square Day acted as an ‘international day’ where students (of all ages) would decorate their classrooms along the theme of an allocated country, dress in a variety of traditional costumes, dine on dishes from around the world, and learn a little of the culture of nations around the world. Colleagues observed that the format was a little superficial, the structure – chaotic at times, and resulted in limited learning opportunities for the students.
On becoming Round Square Rep two years ago, I worked with the student leaders to change the format. Round Square Day at BHS is now a chance for the school community to work together to incorporate the IDEALS into projects which benefit the local community and celebrate our membership of this unique and dynamic organisation. Student leaders are responsible for organising the day, giving them a chance to learn valuable leadership and teamwork skills, and strengthen relationships between their peers. Two students, who had returned from the International Conference at Chadwick, eager to support an idea that they had learned at the event, inspired the format of the day. The new structure also includes a ‘build a bike’ initiative.
The new Round Square Day takes place annually in November; a time when the children are free of exams, the hurricane season has ended, and the weather is warm but not too hot. It also acts as an enjoyable lead-in to the Christmas spirit of giving back and community engagement.
The organisational committee is, in effect, the school student committee: 2 head students from IB2, 4 deputies (IB1) and 14 Year 11 prefects, games captains or House leaders. Previously, Round Square activities had been organised by a separate committee but this had the drawback of positioning Round Square as a side-line club. By working with the existing school-wide student body, Round Square could be embedded into the heart of school operations.
Planning begins a year before the event with the students themselves designing the format of the day. They brainstorm ideas of what they would like to do based on the themes that we set together (this year, the IDEALS focus was around Leadership, Environmentalism and Service). The students are then responsible for researching the opportunities and contacting the organisations with whom they would like to work.
We were grateful for the help of an individual linked to a non-profit called Keep Bermuda Beautiful, to identify sites on the island in need of support and evaluate those areas with safety and logistical considerations in mind.
Students were allocated to projects based on the parish that they live in on the island (there are nine in total). The idea was that they give back to the area where they live but also meet and get to know other students in different year groups who also live in that parish. This also helps with logistics as we can draw upon parents and teachers to help transport the children to and from their venues.
Students work in mixed-age group teams, in order to experience different personalities and perspectives, and learn a little of what makes a team work well.
The student leaders and I met at lunch every fortnight throughout the year, and weekly as the event drew closer. The Head and Assistant Head of Secondary would attend these meetings, imbuing them with a gravity that helped ensure their importance was recognised and progress was made.
Key areas that we discussed were logistics – access to shelter and toilets – and also the format of the day to ensure there were enough activities in each parish to make the student teams’ input worthwhile.
Groups of students (with at least one staff representative) were assigned to a location in their home parish for a morning clean-up of their area, and in the afternoon, they engaged in Barazza Groups and various service projects around the island.
This year, our day began with a team building activity led by student leaders with ideas from Leadership expert, Mike Webber, for example.
This is a progressive initiative. Divide groups into pairs and have them sit opposite each other in the ground holding hands and touching feet. The objective is for both people to stand up at the exact same time. After a pair has succeeded, they then will join with another pair and attempt to stand up with a group of four. After four succeed, go to groups of 8 then 16, and finally the whole group stands up at the same time. Students must hold hands in such a manner that if there was an electric current, it would go through all members without breaking the circuit. Students must also have feet touching in a similar manner.
2 Truths and a Lie
Each person has to make three statements about themselves – 2 truths and one lie. The rest of the group must try to figure out which statement is not true.
The morning clean-up took place in 12 locations across the Island removing trash from areas such as beaches, parks and railway trails and resulted in us collecting 117 bags of trash by the end of the morning. The students were tasked with gathering donations for their trash collection to fund the purchase of the bike kits. The bikes were put together by Year 6 students, with IB2 support, then donated to children in need, ahead of the holiday season.
Some of the afternoon community service projects included a clean-up at Masterworks Museum in the Botanical Gardens and the removal of invasive plant species on Trunk Island. Groups of students also took part in a clean and tidy-up of the Meals on Wheels headquarters, painted a mural, and helped with cleaning and weeding at Wind Reach, an organisation that enriches the lives of people with special needs. Children were also assigned to local government schools supporting younger children with their reading, art classes and games. At one school, they were involved in ‘levelling’ an entire library’s worth of books (sorting the books into age groups), passing on their recommendations of suitable literature for different ages. Others enjoyed reading and visiting residents at a home for the elderly.
The student leaders wrote the questions for the Barazza discussions and invited the students to debate these questions:
- Why is interacting in our community important?
- Why is the environment important?
- In what other ways can we improve our environment?
- How can we impact our community individually?
- Why is teamwork important?
- Why do you think we put so much importance on Round Square?
- Do you think you can be a leader in the community? How?
- Overall, how did you like Round Square Day this year?
- What was your favorite/least favorite aspect?
- What was something that could be improved?
- Which part of the day did you prefer (clean up or community service)?
- Student leadership – By putting students at the centre of the day’s plans, they are also witness to some of its challenges. It is not always easy, for example, to organise the day according to their wishes – they offer help to an outside organisation, and may not even receive a response for their offer of support. This can make them quite agitated and despondent. We learned together that it can take time to build up contacts and that using personal networks can be a useful tool to help get feedback and support. It was one of the life lessons that helped our students understand the reality of engaging with other organisations.
- One of the areas for ongoing development is the Barazza. We tried to give girls of different ages leadership roles in the debates but some of the younger ones struggled to get the attention and focus of the older ones. Again, this is a learning process all round and to address this, we will look at ways to build the younger students’ confidence whilst instilling the value of respect to those older students.
- Quality experiences – Student experiences also varied in quality. For some, it was a little disappointing that they did not feel they had made the contribution that their peers had made, but again, it served as a learning tool to motivate us all to bolster the programme in the coming years. Inevitably, some students were more engaged than others. We looked at ways that we could work around this, for example, pitching student teams against each other to see who could collect the most amount of trash. This not only motivated them to work hard but also helped with the team spirit.
- Transport – One particular area of challenge was that of transport, having discovered that private and public transport options would be limited. We found a way around this by engaging parents to help with transport, encouraging carpooling, also inspiring staff to offer assistance too.
- Build-a-bike practicalities – Whilst the build-a-bike initiative was deeply rewarding for the students, we did face some challenges in set-up costs and timings for the activity. The cost to import the goods was high, but the students sought sponsorship support from corporations, organisations and parents, which allowed us to reduce this cost. Bringing in the kits by boat took longer than anticipated and they only arrived on site the morning of Round Square Day.
We asked all of our student leaders and staff to complete an evaluation survey, which confirmed our own view that the girls enjoyed the new format as it is more ‘hands on’. We were surprised to learn, however, that the students even enjoyed the ‘mundane’ activities, such as pulling out weeds or cleaning cupboards, as they could see the result and the positive impact it had on staff who worked in these areas. In fact, some of the day’s beneficiaries were so grateful for the students’ help, they have asked to donate a beautiful artwork book to every single pupil who supported them.
It was also evident that students and staff benefited from seeing each other in different environments. They bonded through the experience of working towards a task and seeing the fruits of their labour. The students really enjoyed the opportunity to work with others, especially with children in the primary schools. To follow are some of the comments from the evaluation:
In the barazzas, the girls were very talkative and eager to share their answers, and we had some great discussions. The girls said that they enjoyed the strong emphasis of teamwork through our activities.
The day was also a great opportunity for developing students’ leadership skills (some of the staff were pleased to report that on the day itself, they ‘did nothing’!). Prior to the day, we ran some leadership workshops which helped set the frame and expectations for how we expected the children to lead. We wanted the students themselves to be excellent role models for the other girls in their team. Yet we were still taken aback by the girls’ ingenuity in responding to leadership challenges on the day. One example springs to mind of a girl who was sitting away from the group playing with her phone and watching yoga videos. The student leader observed this and invited the girl to run a quick yoga session with the whole team as part of a short rest from their volunteering exercise. Calling on her help got her re-engaged in the process and ready to be part of the team again.
I have to give it up to the girls as Round Square Day was really what they made it. I also have to mention our student leader’s super positive and upbeat energy, which the girls matched and added to the success of the day. The Year 8s were especially enthusiastic, but generally the whole group was great to work with. I am super proud of how it turned out. We are also very grateful for our amazing support system of teachers.
As a school, I feel that the day has further embedded Round Square into the fabric of the school, helped communicate the essence of Round Square and given a real purpose to the day.
The themes for next year will link into the RSIC 2018 theme “Bring Your Difference”. Whilst still drawing upon the student leadership model, we hope to focus on Internationalism and Diversity in the morning with a half day Service focus in the afternoon. The service projects will be in some of the same venues but hopefully extending the range even more. The current Head Student and three IB students have been on a diversity conference and we will be meeting with them to formulate our plans for next year’s diversity sessions.
- Plan early – Get the student leaders to arrange the service venues and activities several weeks before, if not even earlier (we are planning now for next year). Ensure you have a rain date agreed with all.
- Empower your students to lead and accept responsibility – Meet regularly with the student leaders and empower them to organise the day. Be there for support and don’t take over too much (which is not easy at first!). Empowering them to lead can also mean giving them experience of failure. There were students who left their outreach to the last minute and as a result, did not organise any projects, but we were able to support them by providing school based service projects. There are lessons to be learned from this, in terms of the individual’s own work ethics and motivation.
- Pay attention to the communication and administration – Some of the challenges of the project lay in the administration behind 350 students going offsite to so many different locations. We are looking at ways to make the outreach to parents quicker and easier to help manage permissions and update parents on arrangements. Next year, we will send the permission waivers out later, so the students do not have time to lose them or forget to hand them in! Don’t forget to arrange transport early and ensure contact details (such as addresses for service areas) are correct. I would also recommend arranging for the student leaders to meet with the students in their parishes several times during registration, before the event. This will help the group gel and enable the younger students to recognise the leaders in their activities more readily.