Education news

All-Ireland hurling winner champions school's wellbeing programme

Singer Simon Jones, principal Paul McClean and Tipperary hurler Noel McGrath

AN All-Ireland winning hurler has thrown his support behind a school's pioneering emotional health and wellbeing initiative.

Cross and Passion College in Ballycastle has put awareness of emotional health at the heart of its development plans.

Tipperary hurling star Noel McGrath is among those involved. He spoke of recent experiences and how they shaped his outlook on life at a special wellbeing day.

McGrath underwent surgery for testicular cancer in April 2015 and returned to the field in the All-Ireland defeat to Galway just four months later. The following season, he played a key role in the All-Ireland winning victory over Kilkenny.

Pupils attended a lecture and question and answer session with the hurler, who has developed a four step programme to assist young people in developing skills in coping with challenges and disappointment.

Principal Paul McClean said the school's research identified a need from young people for support in developing strategies to help protect their emotional well-being. He said this was an issue which was equally prevalent in his previous school, the north's top performing grammar, St Dominic's in west Belfast.

"Societal pressures are significant on children from primary school right up to when they are young adults and schools are taking steps to try and support them in developing positive response mechanisms," Mr McClean said.

"Whilst the context of both my recent schools are very different, the problems young people face remain the same and this is an issue which all schools are challenged by."

Cross and Passion has scheduled a wellbeing lesson once every two weeks for most its year groups and is complementing this with a series of events over the year.

Mr McClean said the school had a strong tradition of hurling and camogie success, however, to ensure the wellbeing day was focused on the needs of all young people, the school also invited Simon Jones, a singer from Dublin.

"He delivered a very engaging and thought provoking talk on his own experiences of being bullied online and how young people can keep themselves safe when communicating on the internet," Mr McClean said.

Since January last year, the school has developed a staff session focusing on reflecting on spirituality and mindfulness, as well as yoga lessons dedicated to supporting staff wellbeing. It has also developed programmes to challenge and support pupils in making positive life choices, increasing resilience and supporting those around them.

In addition, it is working with its shared education partner, Ballycastle High School and public agencies to develop an information and support evening for parents.

"We rightly have a very strong focus on academic achievement in the school and our pupil outcomes reflect this, however our first priority is always the wellbeing of our young people and giving them the skills and tools to become active citizens and lead fulfilling lives," Mr McClean said.

"All the principals, without exception, that I have discussed this issue with over the last 12 months agree that emotional wellbeing is a topic that is prevalent across all educational sectors and age groups. We will continue to evaluate and review our provision in this area, however, we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the opportunities and challenges."

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