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Profile28th January 2021

My journey on Ark’s Gap Year Diploma programme by Answer Ogbonnaya

Twelve Ark alumni students are working in Ark’s primary and secondary schools supporting English and Maths in all years from GCSE to an SEN nursery group as teaching assistants, tutors, and mentors. Alongside the support they’re providing, the students are preparing for university or apprenticeships with weekly training on workplace skills, living independently, and building resilience.

Answer Ogbonnaya, a former Ark Globe Academy student tells us why she applied and her experience on the programme working at Ark Greenwich Free School. She’s going to study a foundation medicine course at the University of Bradford and hopes to study medicine with one of their partner universities.

Answer’s story launches our #ArkPeople series. Whether it’s our students, alumni or staff, our community has so many stories to tell. We hope you enjoy hearing them.

Over to Answer…

During my sixth form at Ark Globe, I’d planned to take a gap year because studying medicine will take quite a long time – a large amount of your life! Taking a gap year made even more sense when the pandemic hit.

We found out that our exams were being cancelled and teachers would be giving us grades based on previous work, so we focused on preparing for university. I didn’t get the grades I needed, so I decided to do the foundation medicine course first, which I could’ve started in September 2020. However, everything felt so rushed with making decisions regarding student finance, accommodation etc., it was too hectic, so I knew that taking a gap year was the right decision. 

A few students in my school received an email from Tom, the Head of Ark Gap Year suggesting we find out more about the Gap Year Diploma programme. I signed up to the online meeting so I could find out more information and how to apply. 

When I heard about the programme, I thought this would be a great way to spend my gap year because I wanted to work. To be honest, I thought I’d end up working in retail, but this was an amazing opportunity because I could make a real impact. I thought I’m coming from being in education at sixth form to being the one that could be doing the teaching!

I completed the application form and had an interview. I received an email offering me the job – I did think it was a joke – but it was fantastic news. Before I had my interview, I was asked what subject I wanted to do – Maths or English. I loved Maths, so I was happy to help students enjoy it as much as me.

On my first day, I had so many feelings. I was at a new school that was different from the one I’d attended. However, I met other Graduate Teaching Assistants, and everyone was friendly. I watched a few lessons with some of the students I would be assisting, so it was a good day. 

I’ve been assigned to a Maths teacher, so my timetable matches his Year 7-11 classes except for Year 8s. When I was in on-site, I’d be in class and if a student had their hand up while they were doing independent work, I’d go over and answer their question or help them with their work. I was giving out sanctions (running in the corridor, etc.) which was a bit challenging because I’d receive one or two of these when I was as school, so sometimes I feel a bit bad handing them out. I’ve also been a co-teacher, which involved me getting up in front of the class, which was quite fun. That’s some of what I was doing until this recent lockdown!

Of course, things have now changed; we’re online. I’m doing a lot more than when I started, such as setting the homework for Year 7 and Year 9. I was doing some marking during before lockdown, and now I’m doing it digitally through Google Classroom.

I’d say it’s definitely easier being face to face and being in the classroom. When I was in the class, and I wanted to check how students were getting on, I could walk around and see their work, but now, being online isn’t as immediate, it has taken some getting used to. 

I’ve seen how schools have changed since March. They’ve improved the way they deliver online lessons, so I think it’s easier. I’m taking some of the pressure off teachers as I check students’ work and log what they’ve completed, among other things.

I’m getting a lot out of the programme. I want to be a doctor, and I think working in a school with senior staff who see me as a colleague helps me develop my people skills and communication skills, which will be essential for me as a doctor. I’m gaining real experiences because this is my first proper job. When I go to university, I’ll be meeting people from different backgrounds and building relationships with them. 

It’s rewarding because I haven’t been at Ark Greenwich long, but I’ve seen many students progress and improve. 

Being a former student, year groups have responded well to me. I’m sure some of them look at me and think ‘she looks quite young’. I’ve had students say “Miss, how old are you? You look like you’re really young; you look 19…” and I just say “Maybe, maybe not.” I guess it would be ok if they knew my age, as I understand what they’re experiencing (I’m sure they’ll find out soon). Luckily, the students are really respectful, and they treat me the same as any other teacher.

I have a line manager who supports me, and we have regular meetings to catch up. I’ve got targets, so it’s like a proper job, which I think I’m achieving! 

On Fridays, I work a half-day and join an online call with Tom and the other gap year teaching assistants for personal development. We’ve covered CVs, interviews, cover letters, how to record our skills, personal statements, and online courses. Everything we’re doing is preparing us for what we’re going to do after this job. For those who don’t have a place at university yet, they’re getting additional help to support them.

The programme is an excellent opportunity for anyone considering a gap year and that I haven’t seen this anywhere else. It’s preparing us for university, and we’ll get a diploma, so there’s nothing to lose!

The pandemic brought inconsistency to schools, but teachers and teaching assistants are helping to bring some consistency. This programme has given me a new perspective on education.