How the speakers for schools programme matched our inner city comp with the Microsoft billionaire
I applied to the charity Speakers for Schools when I saw it advertised somewhere. Sending off my form, my one request being “please don’t send us a boring, stuffy professor who doesn’t know how to speak to teenagers,” I forgot all about it. In my Christmas holidays I received a call saying that to launch the scheme, they want to match up the unlikeliest pairing of a world famous speaker with an inner city London comprehensive.
I was overjoyed and in shock when it was confirmed that Bill Gates had chosen Deptford Green as the school to launch his Change the World Campaign! But I had to keep it a secret from everyone, only telling the head, due to high security risk in case it was leaked. Very exciting and different from the usual tasks of an English teacher – the preparation began!
In the run up to the event, students wrote letters to Bill Gates – still unaware that he would actually be coming to meet them – telling him how they would change the world.
In his first ever visit to a school in the UK, Mr Gates was greeted by Year 11 students and then spent 30 minutes speaking to a theatre full of pupils telling them about his school days and his hopes and dreams for the future. He was relaxed, charming and full of relevant anecdotes about his school days and his dreams as a youth.
As he was introduced, students leapt to their feet, clapping wildly with looks of complete shock and awe etched onto their faces. Students then had time to ask him some of their questions based on the letters that they’d written to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
I found it very exciting and very emotional to see it all come together.
Mr Gates then participated in a BBC Worldwide Service radio show called World Have your Say with ten students.The radio show was broadcast live from Deptford Green music block with six other schools participating from around the world through Skype – including Deptford Green’s sister school, St Kizito, in Uganda. This was the first time ever the school had been able to skype with Deptford Green – Speakers for Schools had set it up in Uganda for us. This was a very special moment when the technology all worked.
Students involved commented: “It was amazing that the BBC came to our school and we went out live across the world with Bill Gates sitting next to us”, “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity” and “It was the best ever day at school!” Ola Otun, aged 14, said she “had a kind of mini-heart attack” when she saw him. Alex Griffiths, aged 15 said “I think it gives children hope when someone as important as Bill Gates takes time to actually talk to them and care about what they’re doing – and actually wants to help.”
It was a fantastic experience for all involved; a truly memorable occasion to be remembered by staff and students for the rest of their lives. The Speakers for Schools programme is a fantastic initiative aimed at getting truly inspirational speakers into schools that otherwise wouldn’t have them.
• Keely Wilson, aged 32, has been teaching English at Deptford Green for four years following a career change from Public Relations. She’s never looked back!
More information on Speakers for Schools programme
All state secondary schools and colleges in the UK are eligible to apply for a speaker from the Speakers for Schools programme which is totally free. Hundreds of leaders, thinkers, innovators and experts have agreeing to give their time for free to help inspire young people and broaden their horizons. Find out how to apply here.
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