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 staff.
Resilient youngsters will be able to tackle any crisis after dealing head on with the year-long Covid pandemic, teachers in Market Harborough have vowed.
Staff at Welland Park Academy on Welland Park Road said the unprecedented 12-month national emergency has given students “incredible strength”.
And they are confident that they will go on to prove strong enough to handle anything life can throw at them after coming through the toughest year peacetime Britain has ever faced.
Taking a short break out of class to talk to the Harborough Mail, Caroline Bowden, the 960-strong secondary school’s lead on teaching and learning, said: “The last year has given our students an incredible strength.
“They have done this – and it’s made them so much stronger.
“They will face crises in future and they can draw on the experience of coping with the coronavirus pandemic to tackle them.”
She added: “Our students will be able to deal with just about anything in life after this.”
Joining her close colleague, Hannah Russell, the school’s lead on citizenship, said: “The last year’s been an incredible learning curve for all of us.
“Online learning now is incredibly different to what it was a year ago.”
Jason Button, the head of PE at Welland Academy, said: “It’s been a tricky 12 months for us in PE because everything we do is practical.
“It’s been all about trying to transfer that across to children who are learning virtually at home.
“It’s not just been about fitness either – we’ve been looking closely at pupils’ well being too.
“We talk to them for 20 minutes about things such as motivation, resilience and mental health,” said Jason.
“We’ve shown them a lot of videos made by sporting stars talking about the importance of well being.
“We talked about what we were going to do – and set them quizzes to make sure they’d understood.
“Kids were fired up – they’d do 100 burpees, they’d be competitive with their mates.
“And they would go out walking and running.
“They’d be taking pictures of well-known landmarks around Market Harborough charting their progress.
“Some students became more engaged than they’d been here actually in school.”
Hannah said they have promoted well being, giving youngsters the time to reflect on this extraordinary Covid year and “finding the positives”.
“Our pastoral team have been fantastic.
“They have helped out students practically – with stationery, for example, or hygiene packs.
“They’d make home visits and phone youngsters at home to talk to them, see how they were,” said Hannah.
“And we were much better at this in the second lockdown after learning from the first.”
Caroline said they were ready to go teaching students online again within hours of the second lockdown being announced on January 5.
“We swung straight back into operation.
“We had had a lot of Teams training and adapted and evolved so much over the last year.
“It was a steep learning curve and we had to learn fast,” she said.
Hannah said her students have struggled at times – as alongside her hard-working colleagues she pulled out all the stops to re-motivate them on the darkest winter days.
But saluting the steely character of so many children whose worlds were suddenly flipped upside down, Caroline said: “They have been incredibly resilient.
“We would award them a positive point for outstanding qualities such as creativity, independence, kindness and honesty.
“And that meant such a lot to them and their proud families as they worked away at home.”
Emphasising the vital role of sport, Jason said: “Kids appreciate it more and are loving coming to after-school clubs.
“It just feels so good to be out in the fresh air playing sport with their mates.
“We’ve got boys playing netball and girls playing football.
“Sport is so crucial for their mental health too and keeping well – it’s not just about getting physically fit.”
Hannah said: “Everyone of us has had a difficult experience over the last year – kindness is so important as well.
“We are a big family here at Welland Park, a genuine community college, it’s vital to be kinder to each other.”
School principal Julie McBrearty said: “We’ve all been on a massive learning journey together.
“My staff have been magnificent – they are so committed - and they’ve done me proud.
“They always put our children first.
“I’d also like to give a big shout out to our governors.
“They are integral to what we do here and they may be in the background but they enact a critical role and I can’t salute them enough.”
The school’s popular head said they have brought in an extra counsellor to help support their “first-class” pastoral team.
“We have a number of students who have tragically lost their parents or other loved ones during this terrible Covid pandemic.
“One of our counsellors is a Covid specialist,” said Julie.
“We are very pro-active about children’s well being.
“Our pastoral team refers students for counselling.
“We have always said – our school is not just about learning or the curriculum.
“Our students’ well being and mental health is at the very heart of what do here.
“And that will continue to be the case following a very demanding year for as long as this school is here right at the centre of our community in Market Harborough.”