One year on: How the schoolchildren in Harborough have risen to the challenge

This is one of three features our reporter has written after interviews with staff and pupils at the Welland Park Academy

By Red Williams
Tuesday, 23rd March 2021, 5:54 pm

As part of a feature marking the first year since lockdown, Harborough Mail reporter Red Williams and photographer Andrew Carpenter went to Welland Park Academy to speak to the teachers and the pupils. This is one of three features Red wrote about how the school has coped with the pandemic. This article is based on his interviews with the schoolchildren.

We have all had a tough Covid year and we’ve been fed-up at times – but we are determined to crack on and we are up for the fight.

That’s the rallying cry from inspiring students in Market Harborough as our bright next generation set out to make the most of their lives after a year like no other children have ever had to experience.

Lucia, year 10 student. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Seven pupils at Welland Park Academy aged from 13-16 spoke to the Harborough Mail a year to the day that the first coronavirus lockdown was introduced on March 23, 2020.

And it was a huge pleasure to talk to the Market Harborough youngsters as they gave a range of incisive opinions, thoughts and views on the pandemic – as well as their hopes for the future.

Year 10 student Lucia, 14, said: “It’s been a very different year – and it’s put everything in perspective.”

Head girl Emma, 16, who’s in Year 11, said: “No one has ever experienced a year like this before.

Joe and Josh, both year 8 students. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

“So many people’s plans have been changed.

“It’s so shocking to see how we all ended up here.”

Fellow 16-year-old Corin said: “It’s been bizarre – we’ve all been through uncharted territory.

“We have all had to adapt very quickly.”

Welland Park Academy a year on since Covid. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Joseph, 13, said he had found the last 12 months especially challenging as he’s just moved to Market Harborough from London.

“At this time last year I wouldn’t have believed the year we have just had.

“I should have started here last September,” said the Year 8 student.

“It’s been very strange doing all the online learning while being away from all my old mates in London.

Mail reporter Red Williams speaks to students at Welland Park Academy. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

“So I’m just coming in to school now for the first time and it’s exciting starting to make new friends.”

Talking about his own personal battle Josh, 13, said: “It was hard at first trying to learn at home because I didn’t have a laptop.

“It’s great to be back in school and being able to see my mates and teachers again.”

Chris, 15, said: “It’s been difficult because we’ve all had so many interruptions and so much uncertainty.

“We’re just a month away from our final exams and we don’t really know what to expect yet,” said the Year 11 pupil.

“It’s been a jumble and challenging to say the least – a real guessing game as to what’s coming up.”

Chris, year 11 deputy head boy, and Phoebe, year 11 deputy head girl. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Highlighting the positives, Phoebe, 16, said: “This period has taught us new skills.

“And we appreciate what we used to have – and what we will have again.

“It’s important to move on now and I’m so glad that we’re all back in school,” stressed the Year 11 student.

Chris said: “I missed asking our teachers questions.

“We had to email teachers in the first lockdown and it took them a while to get back to us because it was all so new.

“It’s so much better being back in class face to face – we missed that immediate engagement.”

Phoebe said: “I missed break time a lot.

“I’ve been so much looking forward to seeing my friends here again.

“I also missed sport a lot.

“I can’t wait to do football training outside in the fresh air again next week!”

And at that point school head Julie McBrearty jumped in to say: “It’s great to see so many of our groups up and running again.

“It’s so lovely to hear the laughter and children having fun – this is the real magic of getting everyone back into school.”

Emma replied: “It’s just so good to see the people in my classes again.

“I did get fed-up a bit at times.

“At least we had good sunny weather during the first lockdown last spring.

“But it was more of a chore this time around.

“I turned 16 on February 1.

“It’s a big birthday and it wasn’t the one I’d planned, spending it at home with my brother,” said the school’s head girl.

Chipping in, Corin said: “I’m an only child.

“I didn’t see anyone from last March to July.

“I love my parents but it wasn’t easy.”

Phoebe said: “My sister had just left to go to university and I really missed her – particularly as I couldn’t see my friends.

“It took me time to adjust to the new situation.”

Taking it all in as the fascinating discussion played out, Lucia said: “We’ve all had to find our own way.

“I ran out of motivation at times as we lost control.

“It was hard to see the positives and the light at the end of the tunnel in the middle of this.

“I was struggling – and a lot of people were.

“And we didn’t even get to see people at Christmas either.”

Emma said: “It was awful but we have all changed for the better.

“It’s made me stronger.

“There have been positives and a lot to look forward to.”

Asked if their academic and career goals had changed, Corin insisted: “I’m still confident I’ll be able to achieve my targets.

“I want to do my A-levels after taking my GCSEs this summer and going on to university.

“And I want to travel all over the world after spending all this time locked up inside.”

Phoebe said: “We’ve all been in the same boat for so long.

“We can empathise with other people and our teachers.

“Our teachers have been so considerate and supportive and they’ve helped us get through this time.”

Looking ahead to his GCSE exams, Chris said: “I’m happy that we’ll have teacher-assessed grades.

“It takes a lot of pressure off us – and it’s the fairest way after the year we’ve just had.”

To which Julie McBrearty replied: “Our staff know our students so well.

“They are determined to make this new grading system as fair and accurate as possible.”

Joseph said he’s loving seeing new faces at Welland Park while Josh added: “I missed playing hockey and cricket.

“Playing sport again is the best thing about getting back to school.”

Summing up the generally upbeat mood, Lucia said: “We all just want to continue in school now that we’re back.

“We don’t want any more lockdowns – or having to learn at home again.

“That’s the most powerful emotion.

“We are motivated and determined coming back.

“We have gratitude for what we had before.

“I used to go swimming with my dad and having treats – we won’t take that for granted ever again.

“It’s been a mad year but people are getting vaccinated now and that’s a big success story.

“So we all have a lot to look forward to.”

Emma, year 11 head girl, and Corin, year 11 head boy. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER