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Mental health and wellbeing in the Senior School and Sixth Form

Mental health and wellbeing in the Senior School and Sixth Form

Coming to the end of what could reasonably be described as a most unusual year means that writing this piece has given me time to reflect upon the gifts of the last year, strange though that may seem, and to ponder that ultimate ethical conundrum as to what truly makes us happy?

After months of enforced restrictions, the country is being given a glimpse of the 'promised land of freedom' starting with family hugs and greater freedoms to see and be with family indoors again. As one of many who did not see close family for many months, in an effort to keep them and the wider community safe, it has come as a truly exhilarating and joyous moment when I was first able to see family once more and I imagine the same is true for our students and their families alike.

The whole pandemic has recalibrated how we view things and possibly even what we value.

St Mary's students have discovered and developed a whole range of skills and strategies to manage the last 15 months and we should not underestimate the value of what adversity has presented us with as a challenge. Online learning for staff and students has developed our creativity and ingenuity in many ways.

The school community has continued to celebrate and recognise key moments throughout the last year whilst managing to sanitise, socially distance and follow the ‘hands, face, space’ instructions from the government. For a community that thrives on closeness and working collaboratively in many different ways, finding a new way to effect this has not been without its challenges.
The focus has fundamentally been on maintaining the positivity and unity which has always been a defining component of life at St Mary's.

Our students have always been noted for their effervescent approach to almost everything and to have those enthusiastic wings clipped just when they might have been ready to fly academically, musically or philanthropically has been a source of frustration to us all.

But there have been times when the calm wisdom of Mary Ward was helpful to remember as she reminds us that 'what is not done in one year can be done in the next'.
The whirlwind of action of 21st-century life came to a sudden stop in March 2020 and we had to find a new way of being. But what we have gained from the last year can easily be viewed as life-changing and affirming even amongst the potential for loss the year brought.
The resilience which was needed to underpin such a change to living and working has taught us that much is possible with the right mindset; one might also suggest that the flexible attitude we had to adopt has helped those of us with a more fixed approach to our way of working and living to change. We are often reminded that students with a growth mindset are able to adapt to the challenges, new ways of thinking and working throw at them. If nothing else, this year has encouraged many of our students and staff to be prepared to try out new ways of working and thinking.

A key well-being message has continued throughout the year of maintaining a positive mental attitude; and, whilst having a glass half full approach has certainly been tested this year, it is certainly something I try to keep at the forefront of all I do and in my approach with students.

Change is challenging but it can be a force for good as well.

Parents and staff working together to support our wonderful students have tried to maintain empathy throughout the various lockdowns and isolations we have experienced these last months - but at times that empathy has appeared frayed at the edges when natural frustrations appear because life has become so restricted.

I long to see the faces of my students in assembly rather than virtually. I look forward to seeing individual faces fully in lessons as it has become obvious that students have grown up and changed in this last year and we have not witnessed this in the way we normally would. But the stories of the support that students have given to each other and to the wider community have helped me to appreciate that there are great pockets of hope which have come out of this experience.
The collaboration we have seen over Teams lessons, in the challenges and competitions students took part in as well as the collective efforts the school has made to come together despite the challenges of distance, time zones and WiFi cannot be underestimated. I always say to the students that the school is enriched and is a better place because they are here with us. Suddenly 'here' was no longer necessarily Cambridge and was certainly no longer in the same building.

Our collaborative efforts to recreate our community as a virtual one showed that the St Mary's spirit is something that transcends time, place and country.

Nowhere was that more in evidence than in the 'chats' down the side of a Teams assembly or lesson when form groups came back together once more, and tutors and Heads of Year were wishing their groups well. The engagement and wish to share experiences was evident.
I wish for all of us that the 2021-22 academic year will be a rich tapestry of activity, journeys and excitement, and one in which seeing each other fully and being fully present with the whole community returns to being the norm. But I also hope that we take the best bits of our enforced separations of the past 15 months into the future and continue to allow them to be the foundations of our future growth and well-being.

Miss Fleming

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