Spotlight on Volunteering

Spotlight on The Classics Society


'We are so thankful as a society to them and so grateful that they are willing to give up their time and to help us contribute to the local community.'


The Student Awards were held this month and we’re celebrating the wonderful work of the nominated students. The Classics Society were nominated for the 'Contribution to the Local Community' Award. President Isabella Stevens-Mulroe was nominated in two categories, Outstanding Contribution to the Student Experience and Student Leadership Awards, winning the former! Isabella wrote these responses about the work of the Classics Society. 


When did you start?
Last February I organised the society’s first outreach event as part of my role as the Charity and Outreach Officer. This was a ‘Classics Workshop’ for Gylemuir Primary School which allowed two P6 classes to have lessons in Ancient Greek, Ancient History and Archaeology.

Gylemuir had been one of the schools that the Classics Departments ‘Literacy through Latin’ programme was working with at the time. This was an outreach project, in accordance with the Iris Project (a Classics Charity) that enables Edinburgh Classics Students to teach Latin at local primary schools who did not teach it as part of their curriculum. I took part in this programme and taught at Gylemuir once a week throughout the year. 

At the end of last year (April 2018) Dr Pelttari, who had been coordinating this Literacy through Latin programme asked the Classics Society to take it over which we were delighted to do.

Our current Charity and Outreach Officer, Kishan Mistry, was then charged with organising and coordinating the Literacy through Latin programme this academic year. This involved putting together a team of volunteers to teach at the schools, contacting local schools to see if they would like to participate in it, compiling teaching resources and securing funding.

Teaching started in September and will carry on until April. I have continued to volunteer for this programme and am now teaching at Liberton Primary School once a week. 


What is your role?
I am the current President of the Classics Society. Last year I was the Charity and Outreach Officer. 

Who benefits from your work?
The children at the two schools we teach at are the primary beneficiaries. This is because Latin and Classics are not part of the National Curriculum in Scotland meaning that these pupils would not have the chance to learn about the Ancient World or learn Latin without our outreach programme, as their schools do not have the resources to teach it. Learning Latin improves and develops their grammar and literacy skills through an unfamiliar and exciting subject; thus engaging them in new and challenging ways. Moreover, through events such as the Classics Workshops and by being able to interact with Edinburgh University students, the pupils are also able to gain an insight into the university experience. Furthermore, pupils who may or may not be interested in other humanities subjects, might be encouraged to pursue Classics later in their academic career through the exposure they have had to the subject. 

The volunteers themselves also benefit both in terms of gaining valuable teaching experience and also because it gives them a chance to give back to society. Latin and Classics have traditionally been viewed as the preserve of private schools, but through this outreach work we have been able to challenge and overcome this elitism: enabling the children to engage with the ancient world and learn new skills. This is something that all of us are very passionate about as we believe that Classics and the skills and benefits it involves, should be accessible to all. 

How have you found the experience of volunteering in the community?
I have thoroughly enjoyed volunteering in the local community. I participated in the Literacy through Latin project when it was run by the department as well as this year, so I have now spent two years teaching Latin, both of which I have found incredibly rewarding. The children I have taught have been very enthusiastic and it has been a pleasure to watch them pick up the grammar and the cultural aspects that we cover in the lessons and see their confidence develop as a result. The teachers have also been very helpful and supportive of the outreach work. Furthermore, the teams of volunteers I have worked with in the programme have also been very positive and excited about their work, which has helped to make the experience so enjoyable. 

Is there a moment that stands out for you?
I think it is whenever a pupil who has struggled to grapple with some of the new and strange grammar suddenly understands it and is able to translate a Latin sentence into English or vice-versa. From going to no knowledge of Latin to doing this, based on only one-hour lessons per week, is an incredible achievement.

The first workshop we held was also an very memorable day as I was worried about how it would all run and how the schoolchildren and staff would receive it. So watching the children enjoy the tasks they were set as they learnt about Ancient Greek etc felt very rewarding, especially when the staff said that they had also enjoyed the day and would happily participate in another workshop.

What have you gained from this experience?
I have developed my teaching and communicating abilities through the lessons. However, most importantly I feel like I have really contributed to my pupils’ academic experience and have done something worthwhile with the skills and education I was fortunate enough to receive at school and at university.  

Anything else to add?
Just that our members, particularly the volunteers,  have been so enthusiastic and supportive of this outreach work. We are so thankful as a society to them and so grateful that they are willing to give up their time and to help us contribute to the local community. The  committee has also been amazing and it has been a real team effort this year to ensure that we do the best job we can in terms of this outreach work. I also want to say that Kishan Mistry, our Charity and Outreach Officer, has been exceptional in his role. He has balanced the large amount of time and work that is required for our outreach work to be successful, with his own studies and has gone above and beyond in all of his tasks.