Shahbano "Shano" Bakhtiar

Word Up (High School) volunteer

Shano Bakhtiar

What do you do at the University of Sydney?

When I first started volunteering for Compass in 2013, I was a second-year student enrolled in the arts stream of Bachelor of Psychology. I was also doing intermediate French units as part of my degree. My course falls under the Faculty of Science and is designed for those especially inclined to pursue a career in the field of psychology.

What's your background?

I was born in Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan, where I spoke my native language Urdu. When I was about three years old, my family moved to the United Arab Emirates. I commenced my primary education there and first started to learn English formally. In 2003, my family immigrated to Australia and so I completed my high school education in the north-west of Sydney. After my HSC, I took some time off to work and relax and then in 2012 I started my degree in Psychology at the University of Sydney. In my first year, I also did electives in Linguistics, Mathematics and Human Biology.

What made you interested in the Compass volunteer program in the first place?

After hearing about Compass during one of my lectures, I immediately went to its website to learn more about its aims and engagements. I felt that the initiatives of Compass, which help inspire relatively disadvantaged school students to partake in tertiary education, aligned strongly with my own interests in social equity and the importance of early remedial measures in instilling confidence and future educational attainment. Due to my somewhat disjointed scholastic journey and being a non-native English speaker, I had myself greatly benefited in the past from similar mentoring and one-on-one reading help. So, joining the Compass volunteer program seemed like a fitting opportunity that would allow me to help kids broaden their self-expectations and prospects. I was also particularly drawn to Compass' focus on positivity as a means to achieve change - an approach well reflected by the team's bright yellow t-shirts!

Which school/s did you volunteer at and what did you do there?

I was chosen to participate in the Word Up Program, which involved assisting a high school student with literacy skills such as reading and spelling. I was placed in Westfields Sports High School, located in the Greater Western Sydney region. Over the year, I volunteered for thirteen weeks in total, with each session lasting an hour at the library after school. I was introduced to a boy in Year 7 from a culturally diverse background whose literacy abilities were fairly underdeveloped compared to his peers. During our first session, we introduced ourselves to each other and I administered a spelling and reading test to gauge his deficiencies. To help improve his abilities we worked through MULTILIT, a literacy intervention program. This teaching approach included Word Attack Skills that helped systematically increase reading accuracy and speed through a focus on phonics. Using the principles of Reinforced Reading, my student was able to expand his vocabulary and extract more meaning from texts. Further, in keeping with Compass' aim of encouraging students to pursue higher education, I conveyed my own first-hand university experiences and provided study skills tips to spark his awareness and preparedness.

What did you enjoy most about the program?

I immensely enjoyed the program for a number of reasons. The volunteer program gave me an avenue for sharing my enthusiasm for reading and it was great fun to read material aimed at children, which is often quite humorous. Also, it was great to witness the transformation of my student from being fairly diffident during the initial weeks to cracking quite sophisticated and witty jokes as he began to grow more confident.

Often students with literacy impairments can feel excluded in the classroom, reducing the likelihood of them asking for extra assistance due to peer judgment. Consequently, the different setting of working with me one-on-one reduced my student's reservations and allowed him to freely ask questions. This allowed for comparatively more progress and at times I even got to help him finish some of his school assignments. I was lucky to be paired with a keen student who was eager to learn and so it was very rewarding to build a rapport with him. In anticipation of my visits, he would often prepare questions for me to answer and it was nice to be able to give him my exclusive attention in order to clarify concepts.

What was the greatest challenge/obstacle you had to overcome during your volunteering experience?

I was fortunate to only experience a few minor obstacles during my volunteering experience. It was at times a bit challenging to remember all the principles and sequences of the MULTILIT program, which is quite comprehensive and carefully structured. Using the MULTILIT bookmarks easily solved this issue as they were especially created for quick and easy reference. Additionally, being a university student, I realised that at times my explanations and sentence examples were a bit too complicated. This made me have to remind myself to simplify my instruction to match his comprehension levels.

Overall, how did you find your experience volunteering with Compass?

Overall, I found my experience volunteering with Compass extremely satisfying as I feel that I've managed to make a fruitful contribution to someone's academic trajectory. I must admit that after first observing my student's reading deficits, I was a bit daunted by the prospect of achieving meaningful improvements. However, he greatly surpassed my expectations by making significant literacy advancements in the space of a few months. This is a testament to the efficacy of MULTILIT resources and our training program, which were both very well- organised. Volunteering also gave me the opportunity to meet like-minded people at university, from an array of courses. The Compass team along with the School Compass Coordinators were really supportive and ever-present to guide us volunteers in case of any problems.

Do you see your experience of volunteering with Compass as being useful for your current or future career?

I consider my experience volunteering with Compass as being very useful for my future career. As a psychology student, I am particularly interested in roles that allow me to engage with different groups of people so as to attempt to better understand and help them. In this instance, I was given the opportunity to develop my interaction skills with a male child from a varied cultural and linguistic background who struggled with literacy. Compass offers a structured program with well-defined goals. Volunteering has hence allowed me to actually make some tangible differences by putting some of the theory I learn into practice. More formal teaching is something I had not done before and so the training and experience have allowed me to personally extend myself as well in terms of skills and attributes.