Gulf Insider speaks to Jamie O’Dowd, Assistant Head Teacher at the St. Christopher’s Senior School about their Enrichment programme, the importance of having happy students, and students’ mental health and wellbeing.
Can you briefly tell us about the school’s Enrichment programme and the recent changes that have been made?
The Enrichment programme is our version of PSAG. We deal with aspects of the child’s education that has to do with their moral, social, and cultural education – the kind of things that are not covered in the standard academic lessons.
The improvements we have made include increasing our focus on a child’s wellbeing and mental health.
There’s an old belief in teaching that if a student does well at school, they will achieve good grades, get a good job, and then they will be happy. What the industry is having to rethink is that – first and foremost – we need to ensure that young people are happy. Happy students achieve well in school. They achieve good grades, which will result in them getting better jobs and being happy.
What has been the response from the students since this programme has been implemented?
Students have been fundamental in the redesign of Enrichment. We’ve consulted them at every stage and they told us that they wanted the skills and techniques to ensure that they could positively impact their own and other people’s happiness and wellbeing.
Too often, mental health coverage in schools is about the negative end of the mental health spectrum, looking at the conditions that can arise when mental ill health occurs. What we’ve tried to do is change our program to ensure that all students – regardless of their current mental health – have the skills needed to positively impact their own and others’ mental health and wellbeing.
We find that they’re using the language and specific terminology to do with wellbeing and mental health with much more confidence. They’re more aware of the impact of their words and their actions on each other. It is now becoming a common language within the school that we all refer to.
When did mental health and wellbeing initiatives begin in St Christopher’s and why?
Student wellbeing has always been highly prioritized at St Christopher’s. All the events we do outside of a classroom are to ensure that our students are happy, such as sports day, music and drama performances, dress up days, parties, and proms.
The redesign of the Enrichment was done to just give this an explicit name and focus. We followed an evidence-based practice called positive education which prioritises wellbeing and mental health, and puts it at the very heart of education to ensure all the learning that it follows is conducted in the best environment for the child.
Are there any similar programmes for the lower levels?
A slightly different format of Enrichment is also offered in the junior school, because of their age. We empower them at this stage so that they come up to senior school with the skills needed to quickly adapt to the language of positive education.
We survey all of our students to make sure that they know what their character strengths are. Quite often, schools focus on the area of a child’s character that needs improving. What positive education focusses on is: What do you already do really well? Why are you an individual and wonderful? How can we celebrate, use, and nurture that in the classroom?
What other ways is the school committing to supporting wellbeing and mental health?
The school has recently redesigned its whole curriculum. We call it the “future ready curriculum”. One entire strand of the curriculum is wellbeing. In addition to that, we’ve redesigned our form time activities.
We have a weekly “Wellbeing Wednesday” where we expose students to different techniques and skills they can use to positively influence their own wellbeing, such as meditation, yoga, breathing, stretching, positive emotions, and positive relationships, which sometimes includes just enjoying, having fun, and celebrating the diversity at the school.
Our school counselors provide learning and educational resources outside of the normal clinical sessions that they have with students. They’ve made great connections with practitioners across the island to ensure that we’re getting the best advice and access to these services for our students.
During our recent children’s mental health week, we had guest speakers, including the Royal Bahrain Hospital, nutritionists, and psychologists.
We’ve also recently signed up to the Carnegie Mental Health Awards for schools, which would allow us to have a proven framework by which we can test our own practices and policies to ensure we are designing and creating a world class mental health and wellbeing environment for both staff and students.
What sort of feedback have you received from parents on this initiative?
Parents have been fundamental in the redesign of the Enrichment programme. We involved them from the beginning, when we decided to reevaluate. What they shared with us was insightful because they prioritise and value their child’s wellbeing just as much as they do their education. If you ask most parents what they want for their children, their answer is of course, for them to be happy. Education and success come after.
This matches with our new belief which is: wellbeing should be at the heart of what we do.
For more information on St Christopher’s School, call 1760 5301 or visit their website.