Wednesday 21 February 2018

Tragic death spurs students to warn about concussion

A campaign by transition year pupils at Cashel Community School to raise awareness of the dangers of head injury in school sports has won recognition from a nationwide programme. Áilín Quinlan reports

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The tragic death of Ben Robinson – a 14-year-old schoolboy who had suffered concussion during a rugby match – was the catalyst for a prize-winning project on the condition by a group of Tipperary students.

Ben, from Carrickfergus, Co Antrim (pictured right), died after collapsing near the end of the game in January 2011.

After reading an article about the incident, a group of 18 Transition Year students at Cashel Community School decided that they would make the condition – concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury caused by a blow to the head which disrupts a person's normal functioning – the focus of their Transition Year Social Innovation Project.

Their school was one of about 200 which annually participate in the Social Innovation ACTION programme, which also runs in youthreach and youth organisations across Ireland, north and south.

Founded in 2001, Young Social Innovators (YSI) is a not-for-profit organisation which creates opportunities for young people to engage in social innovation of different kinds.

Shocked by what had happened to Ben, the Tipperary students – 15 girls and three boys – decided to focus on concussion for their YSI project.

They were particularly interested in broadcasting the symptoms, because, explains their teacher Caitriona Ryan, although they all played a variety of sports, none of them knew much about concussion:

"They investigated the dressing rooms and found no information on concussion," says Caitriona adding, however, that a number of them realised that they had been concussed in the past, and, in hindsight, realised that they had also seen players who were concussed.

The students decided to focus on the provision of concussion education in their own school, believing that if the model was successful there, it could be copied in other schools around the country.

Their comprehensive project, Without Your Brain You Have No Game, later won a bronze award at the Young Social Innovators of the Year 2014.

As part of the project they successfully sought funding for, and created a digital animation on the condition, which will be released on YouTube this month.

Last February three students travelled to Cork to present their idea to a panel of judges for the Vodafone Ireland Foundation, which this year provided over €400,000 in funding to YSI.

The judges were impressed, and the animation, which makes specific reference to Irish sports such as hurling and football and camogie, got the funding. The Tipperary group also designed a simple but eye-catching poster on how to recognise the signs and symptoms off concussion, which range from headaches, confusion and nausea to blurry vision, memory problems and pressure in the head – and what to do about it.

But that wasn't all – they also ran a primary school art competition on concussion and one of the group even composed and sang a song about the condition. The group plans to write to President Higgins to ask him to hold a youth conference on concussion – something similar to a successful initiative run by US President Barack Obama in the White House.

But their work doesn't end there, says Ryan – the ball will be picked up by a new group of transition year students next year, who will create a special website on concussion.

This idea came from a suggestion by a Department of Education inspector sent by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to meet the students after they wrote to him about what they felt was a serious lack of information about the condition in the school system.

It was a fascinating project to be involved in, according to transition year student Orla Gahan, 16, who helped create the colourful concussion poster. Orla was also a member of the team which made the successful 'Dragon's Den'-style presentation to the Vodafone Foundation to pitch for money to pay for the animation on concussion.

"I pitched about the animation, telling them what we were going to do with it , and how we could empower young people by showing the clip," she recalls.

The presentation lasted about 10 minutes.

"Three of us took turns in front of a panel of three judges," she said. "It was nerve-wracking but we had our stuff well prepared. I think it is a brilliant project! It has huge potential because concussion is a major issue and people don't really know much about it."

Fellow student Ornagh Morrissey (17), travelled to Dublin to attend a conference on acquired brain injury as part of the project, and communicated with Ben Robinson's father Peter.

"He was very interested in our project and was re-tweeting all our tweets and helping to get the message out there.

"He had our project mentioned in Westminster, which was fantastic. It was a great experience and we learned a lot," Ornagh said.

Their project was one of more than 400 youth-led social innovation projects undertaken this year in over 200 second level schools and youth organisations throughout Ireland.

Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, Co-Founder of Young Social Innovators, and Anne O'Leary, CEO Vodafone Ireland, presented the winning team with their award at a special ceremony – attended by more than 4,500 young people – in Dublin following the 13th Young Social Innovators Annual Showcase, which was supported by the Vodafone Ireland Foundation.

More than 6,000 young people participated in Young Social Innovators' project-based Social Innovation Action programme this year, undertaking projects aimed at finding and implementing solutions to the social issues that concern them. The projects addressed a range of social issues including farm and water safety, mental health, gay rights, the isolation of older people, energy and environmental conservation, as well as issues such as alopecia awareness and cyber-bullying. A further 16,000 young people were involved in YSI's other innovation programmes in 2014.

Since the organisation was founded in 2001, more than 75,000 young people have participated in YSI programmes and have undertaken more than 3,000 youth-led social innovation projects.

Visit the students' Facebook Page – Without Your Brain You Have No Game follow them on Twitter @ccsysi

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