ONE look at the smiling, enthusiastic faces of the Year 7 students as they make up their Christmas boxes for the local Age UK drop-in centre, and it becomes instantly clear why Hillview School for Girls places such great emphasis on charity and community engagement.
For the students it is both educationally enriching and personally rewarding.
These young people were completely engaged by the experience of helping others.
Smiling faces are catching, and for guests and students alike the afternoon at the centre proved to be both magical and memorable.
Community activities at Hillview are not restricted to local charities.
Indeed, part of the importance of charitable engagement is that it provides such a poignant opportunity to learn about our world and some of the critical and catastrophic events with which we are so tragically confronted.
Pupils sell red ribbons to mark World Aids Day and learn about the devastating global effects of the disease.
They raise money for earthquake and tsunami victims, for The Royal British Legion and for major international charities.
One particular project helped to open the eyes of students to conditions in a Ugandan village called Kabubbu.
They visited the school and orphanage and formed strong and lasting bonds with the local people.
And today those links still flourish.
Through the work of The Quicken Trust, pupils maintain contact and continue to visit, and each year funds are raised to help Kabubbu youngsters to afford the education they need to go on and become successful in their own communities.
For Hillview students the learning opportunities go on and on.
Not only have they experienced first-hand what it is like to live in Uganda, but on their return they built their own hut from mud and straw, designed and wore tribal costumes, made face masks and musical instruments, painted and drew traditional Ugandan scenes, wrote letters, stories and essays and cooked using local recipes and ingredients.
Such experiences can be truly life-changing – and the value is not all in receiving.
Events such as own clothes days, cake sales, Christmas Jumper days, Movember (for staff, not pupils!) are enthusiastically supported, and enabled Hillview staff and students to raise almost £6,500 this year, up by 13 per cent from 2010-11.
The charities which have benefited include Hospice in the Weald, Macmillan, Age UK, Young Minds Mental Health, Demelza and many others.
The educational experience is strengthened by embedding the social and community engagement within the curriculum.
When the end results are so rewarding it is easy to understand the importance of these opportunities, and their potential for creating experiences which have dramatic and lasting influences on all concerned.