New wellbeing resource sparks students’ engagement with school

Issue: Volume 97, Number 18

Posted: 5 October 2018
Reference #: 1H9mUU

Students at Breens Intermediate School were the first to test the new Sparklers resources for Year 7 and 8 students, and the school is noticing a difference.

Breens Intermediate students participate in an activity from the Sparklers resources.

On a Monday afternoon in Christchurch, a group of students at Breens Intermediate School is gathering to practice mindfulness, breathing, self-regulation and managing their emotions.

The students are learning how to overcome anxiety and build resilience by working through a series of activities from the Sparklers resource kit.

One of the activities involves students linking arms while standing back to back with a partner and then working together to stand up and sit down without using their hands.

Year 7 student Caitlynn Percasky likes the cooperative aspect of this activity.

“You have to work together, one person can’t just do it all, so it’s really fun. It helps with learning when to stop and cooperation and really good life skills. Sometimes the group can be a bit noisy, so we learn when to stop having a laugh – we know when to do it, but we know when to stop.”

Year 7 student Quinn Abercrombie’s favourite activity requires students to communicate without speaking to arrange themselves in a certain configuration, such as oldest to youngest or in birth date order.

“I like it because you find stuff out about more people. It helps you learn how to treat other people.”

Wellbeing support nationwide

Sparklers was developed as a response to the Canterbury earthquakes, following reports of children’s emotional and behavioural issues at home and school, insecurities, worries, and inability to sleep well (often while relocating). However, the resources are useful for supporting the wellbeing of children throughout New Zealand.

The Year 7 and 8 resources became available earlier this year after Breens Intermediate, which was using the original resources, provided feedback around the need for activities aimed at older students.

The school is considering embedding wellbeing practices into its curriculum. Sparklers is one aspect of their ‘Totara’ wellbeing programme, based on the school’s values, and is run by Hauora Lead Teacher Steph Pole.

“It’s for students who show a bit of anxiety, have low esteem, a few friendship issues, or just need a boost. This year we decided to have some leaders in the group as well as those kids because we felt that it gives these kids something to role model themselves on,” she says.

“It’s also good for the leaders because they get to meet kids that they perhaps wouldn’t and they get to show their leaderships skills.”

The aim is for all students to feel happy, relaxed and calm so they look forward to coming to school and are more open to learning.

Identifying emotions a critical step

“Last week they had a really interesting talk that came up about their parents,” says Steph.

“One student was saying, ‘When I go home, if I’ve had a bad day we talk about it’ and the other kids were saying how their parents react and then they started saying ‘Well, sometimes my parents just don’t seem to understand’ and it was a huge conversation.

“Just today the girls were colouring in and talking about high school, and three of the Year 8 girls said ‘we’re really nervous’, because they’re going to the local high school open night tonight.”

Discussions such as these are significant because identifying emotions is a critical step towards students being able to reflect on their feelings and manage their reactions.

The importance of knowing each child

Breens Intermediate School Principal Nikki Clarke says the key is to know your students and their whānau well.

“It’s all about knowing the children and who the children are who might need a bit more support. By putting this work in early and being proactive, we’re not having to put the resourcing and all the work in at the other end, because it’s been taken care of,” she says.

“At the beginning of the year we basically looked child by child at who might be needing extra support and how we were going to do that. I looked over those lists again in the weekend to prepare a board report; a lot of those needs have been addressed through our wellbeing programmes.

“It feels good to know that we have done something positive for those children and that they are more engaged with school, because that’s what it’s about – engagement with school, then the learning is more likely to happen.”

Working together promotes wellbeing and helps students to develop resilience.

Developing resilience in young people is important, Nikki says, particularly in Christchurch. Even though it has been some time since the Canterbury earthquakes, some parts of the community still grapple with anxiety and displacement.

“Our parents have been really supportive of the work we are doing in this area. One student’s mum actually works in this area in the community, so she gets it and she has just said what a fabulous thing to be part of, to be promoting and to be actually prioritising.”

Through their Totara programme and by using the Sparklers resources, the school aims to teach students how to self-regulate their emotions.

“We’re trying to build the whole child, particularly in these important adolescent years. We’re trying to set them up really well for success as they head into the world beyond intermediate school.”

The Sparklers resources(external link) are available free online.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:00 am, 5 October 2018

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