Sunday 24 September 2017

The school for smiles as pupils give lessons in wellbeing

Teacher Pauline Moynihan and pupils,Tegan Jennings, Amy Horan, Teigan Walsh, Blessing Lawan, Chloe Mullins and Erin Kridichart enjoying a yoga session during Wellbeing Week at Colaiste Bride in Clondalkin.
Teacher Pauline Moynihan and pupils,Tegan Jennings, Amy Horan, Teigan Walsh, Blessing Lawan, Chloe Mullins and Erin Kridichart enjoying a yoga session during Wellbeing Week at Colaiste Bride in Clondalkin.
Teacher Catherine Kelly and head girl Evelyn McGrillen douse relaxing lavender oil on pupils
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The results of the mocks are in, so a certain frisson might be expected in the school as exam candidates, and their teachers, digest what needs to be done in the weeks left before June.

But it was smiles all round at Colaiste Bride, Clondalkin.

Who could blame them? At any moment, the school intercom could interrupt classes with a message telling all and sundry to drop everything and breathe: the next three minutes were to be given to relaxation.

At a "lavender table", positioned in the school's entrance hall, students and teachers can line up for a calming balm of the essential oil on their wrists

The 1,300 Post-its that appeared on the front of student lockers, or on pigeonholes in the staffroom, couldn't but warm the hearts of the recipients. Like a Valentine's billet-doux, every student and staff member was treated to a note, hand-written by one of the 22 members of the student council, telling them how special they were, or how to stay positive.

It's Wellbeing Week at Colaiste Bride, a 950-pupil girls' secondary school in Dublin.

The benefits are obvious on the faces in the corridors. Transition-year student Sarah Molloy, a member of the student council, says: "Definitely people are smiling more .

Her student council colleague, Sarah Darcy, chips in: "It makes everything easier when everyone is happy; the whole thing really uplifts your spirits."

There is a lot of focus now on the mental health and wellbeing of students, at both primary and post-primary level. Wellbeing will be on the curriculum in the new Junior Cycle.

Colaiste Bride has been involved in a raft of different initiatives to help its pupils to understand, and to deal with, the pressures of life. But Wellbeing Week is an exercise in bringing it all together and using different, and overlapping, approaches to reinforce the message.

According to principal, Marie Therese Kilmartin, the whole week is about introducing coping methodologies, ways in which to address mental health issues.

She says: "It is to give students the strength to have the courage to come forward and articulate any concerns about mental health".

But, far from a top-down approach, with students trooping in to lectures telling them how to think positive, eat healthily or avoid stress, the pupils at Colaiste Bride have taken control.

When Colaiste Bride celebrated its second Wellbeing Week, last week, it was the work of the students, who brought to it lessons they had learned from last year, so that it would be even better.

One of the things they learned was how long it takes to write 1,300 Post-its, and, this time, they gave themselves a couple of days, rather than a hand-breaking few hours.

Ms Kilmartin, says the fact that the week is student-led brings it to a whole new level.

Support

Head girl, Evelyn McGrillen, says the whole concept is to make students and teachers feel better about the environment they are in, to help them understand that they are all one and that they need to support each other.

Among the events planned for sixth years was a guest speaker, but then they thought: 'Why not do it ourselves?'

Head girl Evelyn was among a number of Leaving Cert students who stood in front of her peers and gave a presentation. Evelyn's was on both the joys, and dangers, of the post-exams sixth-year holiday.

She dispensed the sort of advice like 'know your limits', 'don't forget to eat', 'mind each other' and 'drink plenty of water' that parent or teacher would also deliver, but maybe they heard it better when it came from one of their own.

Each day had its own theme and they included fitness and relaxation, healthy eating, thinking positive, friendship and anti-bullying.

There were early morning yoga sessions for teachers, and the instructor, more familiar to pupils as Miss Moynihan, the Irish and French teacher, also laid on yoga workshops throughout the week for students in the serene surrounding of the room in the school that is known as the Sacred Space.

On Tuesday, sixth years got to take a class off and enjoy a tea party in the canteen. Ms Kilmartin said that, initially, some sixth years were not too pleased at the notion of missing a class and asked, "Why are we doing this?", but then they relaxed into it.

On Wednesday, students were given the opportunity to expend any tensions, and let their hair down generally, with a flash-mob style lunchtime dance in the gym.

On Thursday, when the day's theme was healthy eating, there was free fruit and yogurt, and at lunchtime, chef Ruth Wassell gave a cookery demonstration to which not only students, but also parents, were invited.

There was a particularly powerful session on Friday when teachers and students spoke openly about their own experiences of mental health issue .

The week ended on a high note when Bressie arrived and spoke to students and staff about coping strategies, answering a raft of questions including what advice he would have for his 15-year-old self, and how would he support someone having a panic attack.

White board jungle

It could be the solution to our energy problems. Scientists have come up with a way of generating electricity when students at a university bar relieve themselves at a urinal.

The revolutionary "pee power" prototype has been launched in recent days at the University of the West of England.

Students and staff are being asked to help fuel microbial fuel cell stacks that generate electricity to power indoor lighting.

The research team is led by Professor Ioannis Ieropoulos, of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at UWE Bristol.

"We have already proved that this way of generating electricity works," the professor said.

If we could only harness this type of power on the streets of Dublin on a Saturday night!

l Girls lack self-confidence when tackling maths and science problems and this holds back high achievers, according to an international OECD study.

The study says school performance could be boosted by improving attitudes among girls towards maths and science. It also suggests that parents should encourage girls to consider careers such as engineering.

The OECD says: "Even many high-achieving girls have low levels of confidence in their ability to solve science and mathematics problems and express high levels of anxiety."

Irish Independent

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