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Returning to school in a changed world – student wellbeing

By Aegis UK October 7, 2020

Mark Ronan, Headmaster of King’s Hospital School, Dublin writes about the support they have in place for pupils and the arrival of Nala – the school’s emotional support dog.

The words All changed; changed utterly penned by William Butler Yeats after the Easter Rising in 1916 could easily be used to describe our world more than 100 years later. In a matter of hours last March, our lives were changed utterly.
Globally, nationally and within our community here in The King’s Hospital, the Covid-19 outbreak has affected the way many of us live our lives. It has been a worrying and anxious time, with many things happening outside of our control.
Students were sent home in March and, for some, the experience has been challenging. School is a social anchor for many children and the curtailing of the school year affected them in a variety of ways. Lockdown has been particularly tough for adolescents whose focus in life is about connecting and friendships. There also has been a disruption in their academic lives – which is even more significant for those in exam years.
Our interest in student welfare extends beyond the academic to include their personal and individual needs, development and well-being. Moreover, as we return to school in a world still scarred by Covid-19, the health, safety and well-being of our students and staff is paramount.
We have been working throughout the summer to ensure that we can make the return to school as normal as possible for students in the current climate. Our counsellor, Clair Breen, has been on hand since the outbreak began to provide advice and support to staff, students and parents and will continue to be available as school returns.
Clair Breen – Counsellor and Nala
And Clair will be joined by our wonderful emotional support dog Nala. We are part of a pilot programme with the Irish Guide Dogs and are one of only two schools through this programme in Ireland that offers this kind of support to students. It is widely understood that pets can have a positive effect on mental health and help with depression and loneliness. By offering companionship, friendship and comfort, they can help reduce stress and anxiety. Pets can also assist people to stay socially connected and less withdrawn.
Our great strength has also been our teachers and support staff, many of whom live on the campus with their families, adding to the community spirit of our school. Our teachers are more than just educators. They are mentors, coaches, advocates and trusted supporters. At any time, any of us can feel vulnerable and this is particularly true in a time of uncertainty when we are dealing with the unknown. As well as supporting staff well-being and self-care, we will be equipping them with the training and resources to help them look after themselves and emotionally support our students. But they will not do this alone. Our pastoral pathway ensures there is a wider team they can call upon if they need assistance.
We are working to provide a safe, mindful space for students and staff alike to retreat to if they need to take a break or catch their breath. Likewise, we are examining how we can provide our morning chapel service to all students in a safe, socially-distanced manner.
It is important to get a structure back because all of us – student and adults – thrive on structure and boundaries to give us a sense of safety. But, as with many things in the new normal, we will also have to learn as we go.
‘We’re all in this together’ has become the mantra for the collective desire to combat the spread of Covid-19. But we also have to be cognisant that everybody’s lived experience is going to be different, so it is about making room for everybody. For some people it is the fear of how to adjust again, for others it is about motivation. Many people have fears about the virus and many are apprehensive about an uncertain future. Therefore we must do our collective best to support one another.
Clair Breen – Counsellor and Nala