Encouraging pupils to embrace a holistic vision through co-curricular programmes
Alastair Sinclair, coordinator of partnerships and a Spanish teacher at King Edward VI School in Southampton, writes that developing pupils' resilience is of equal importance to the provision of academic opportunities.
With an ever-increasing number of children suffering from mental health issues due to the complexities and challenges of modern day society, there are worrying headlines on an almost daily basis, which recount the difficulties of being a child in the United Kingdom. It is apparent therefore that the current emphasis in schools, both in the independent and state sector, upon developing character and resilience comes at a particularly apt moment and the news stories that we consume serve to highlight the importance of teaching these characteristics from a young age.
At King Edward VI School, Southampton we seek to instil these values in our pupils through encouraging them to embrace a holistic vision of education whereby the extensive co-curricular programme that we offer is seen to be of equal importance to the academic opportunities that we provide. From the very start of the first year our students participate in leadership and team-building activities through visits to Outdoor Education centres, they are able to get involved in community events and represent the school through a thriving school council and house system which encourages students to take risks and try new activities on a regular basis. As a school, we view our partnership activities as a natural extension of this work and we appreciate the reciprocal benefits of the outreach work that our students undertake. On a weekly basis, our students visit local primary schools to act as mentors for reading, teach philosophy and foreign languages and engage the younger students in a variety of STEAM activities that they would not normally be able to access.
Our most recent initiative has been the Sholing Partnership, a joint endeavour with Sholing Junior School. The essence of the project is that after a variety of preliminary ice-breaking and team-building activities we take a group of students from Years 5 and 6 from Sholing Junior School to our Outdoor Education Centre in Devon for four days in July. Some of the students are chosen on the basis of living under difficult circumstances or not having access to enriching opportunities outside of school. Each of these students is then mentored by one of our sixth form students who accompany them on the trip. Our sixth form mentors have already contributed to the trip by raising the money to pay for the activities. For Sholing pupils the visit represents a number of challenges and, for some, it is the first time they have ever been away from home. In all cases, these children have already had to show significant character and resilience in terms of challenges that they have had to deal with and overcome both inside and outside of school. During last year’s visit the children were able to experience their first fossil hunt, enjoy their first ever horse ride across Dartmoor and attempt camping.
The visit provided the children with a range of challenges - overcoming homesickness, conquering fears about some of more adventurous activities... They were ably supported by their mentors and the depth of relationship that the students on both sides of the partnership was remarkable. The partnership illustrates the importance of encouraging children from all backgrounds to embrace risk, new adventures and to meet and socialise with others in a different environment. Furthermore, for our own students we are immensely proud of the leadership skills and empathy that they demonstrated throughout the project.
Developing a depth of character and resilience are skills that must be acquired through adversity - albeit within the framework of a supportive environment. We should all see it as our responsibility as educators to push our students outside of their comfort zones as often as we can, both through the organisation of shared educational experiences but also in classrooms on a daily basis.