Harry Potter comes to Heidelberg West
During the pandemic, Vinnies Victoria’s Education programs were quick to adapt to an online format that saw students team up with volunteers to work on their reading and homework in weekly one-to-one sessions.
At the same time, Michael Whalley, who plays Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stage show in Melbourne, became a learning assistant with one of the programs after the show was suspended due to COVID-19. He was teamed up with Eamon, aged 8, who had joined the program to get help with reading.
“After the Harry Potter show had to shut down in early 2020, I began thinking of what else I could do with my time and skills that were useful. I saw the Vinnies advert looking for volunteers and knew that was it,” Michael said.
Michael and Eamon would meet for an hour every Tuesday and soon found that they had a shared passion for animals and pets, which directed their strength-based learning activities. Michael said they played word games about Eamon’s favourite subject and would research any animals that Eamon wasn’t familiar with, which appealed to his love of science while also improving his reading skills.
There are seven education programs running throughout Victoria that help hundreds of students a year with their schoolwork – as well as the all-important social and emotional development that underpins all learning.
Michael said at the time, “I really enjoy working with Eamon and I’m learning a lot, Eamon knows more about science and maths than me! Getting a small person’s view on the world is very healthy and humbling.”
Likewise, Eamon loved working with Michael. “I like how we have lots of fun with books. He’s funny too.”
When the Harry Potter show resumed in early 2021, Michael sadly had to suspend his volunteering duties due to the show’s commitments – but not before Vinnies got the pair together in the same room for the first time at last.
The education team was delighted to host a special Harry Potter themed event in May at its Heidelberg West Reading Club, organised by the team leader Jack Stammers. Michael and Eamon, who dressed in a Gryffindor costume, bumped elbows and had a few minutes together to discuss their favourite Harry Potter books.
Michael told Eamon, “It’s great to finally meet in person. Doesn’t this feel strange, after all that time hanging out in front of our computers?”
Once they were joined by the other students, Michael read to the group from his first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
The event was topped off by the visit of another very important guest who flew in via the wizardry of Zoom from London – none other than Professor Sprout from the Harry Potter films, AKA Miriam Margolyes. Miriam regaled the young people with tales of how the films were made and the students in turn delivered a special thank you by singing A Kookaburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree – much to Miriam’s delight.