Cork teachers respond to ‘scary’ increase in anxiety among young people

Three Cork secondary school teachers are behind a new wellbeing programme in response to the introduction of ‘Wellbeing’ as a junior cycle subject, writes EMMA CONNOLLY
Cork teachers respond to ‘scary’ increase in anxiety among young people

Sanchia Connolly, Aran O'Driscoll and Holly Peters.

EVEN the most resilient teenagers will find this school year challenging and they’ll need to be carefully minded, or they may face problems down the line.

That’s according to three Cork city secondary school teachers who are helping to support student wellbeing within the classroom, and beyond.

Colleagues at St Angela’s College, Sanchia Connolly, Aran O’Driscoll and Holly Peters, have compiled a ‘Nurture 4 Wellbeing Programme’ in response to the introduction of ‘Wellbeing’ as a junior cycle subject.

It’s essentially a suite of ready made resources and lesson plans which have already been trialled on their tough target audience — teens.

Wellbeing, as a subject, began to be rolled out in 2017 and and will be fully implemented in all schools by 2021.

Sanchia, Aran and and Holly felt passionate about it from the get go, and it’s been timetabled in their school since 2019. However, they picked up on an ‘initiative fatigue’ among their peers.

Aran O'Driscoll.
Aran O'Driscoll.

Aran said: “There’s been so much change in the curriculum over the past few years that some people felt a little jaded.

“For Wellbeing, there was always also a deficit in reaching the required 400 timetabled hours per student over the three years, and we felt a practical, usable resource like ours, available at the click of a mouse, was needed.”

They were further motivated by what Aran called a ‘scary increase’ in anxiety in their students over the past 10 years.

“It’s quite dramatic and I’d attribute a lot of it to the time spent on screens and on social media.

“Many of them are much less able to cope, and are less resilient, coming into secondary school, than before, despite the excellent work done by national schools.

“Students are feeling very overwhelmed with different teachers, subjects and expectations and think everything is coming at them in the one go.

“Many wouldn’t have settled in even by Christmas and would be having inter-personal difficulties, forgetting things, and looking to adults for solutions. They’d often get very upset, hyperventilate, we’d see school refusal, or if they did come in, they’d often have to go home after a short while as they couldn’t manage it.

“That was our motivation. Because while there was this subject, it was a case of every school starting from scratch.

“What we needed was a programme that students would buy into, that would give them coping tools while still dealing with the ups and downs of being a teen.”

With that in mind, Aran (who teaches English and Wellbeing); Holly (PE, French and Wellbeing) and Sanchia (SPHE and Wellbeing) spent the past few years working on the programme, writing and rewriting it, testing it and trialling it, figuring out what worked and what didn’t.

Holly Peters.
Holly Peters.

“We had to be brave about it, and to be ready for teens and to be ready to fail.

“Over three years of writing and rewriting we ended up with the programme we have now,” said Aran.

Among many things, it looks at mindfulness, meditation, gratitude, learning to process feelings, and recognising strengths and weaknesses.

Best of all, they’ve evidence in their own school that the programme is effective as they’ve seen a reduction in the number of students presenting to either the principal or deputy principal with problems.

“That had been something that had been escalating but we’ve seen a dramatic reduction as issues are resolved before they get to that level,” said Aran.

The co-founders say the challenges of moving to online teaching due to the pandemic have further highlighted the need to support student wellbeing.

Holly said: “Irish teenagers have been through so much over the last few months, alongside the usual stresses of growing up.

Sanchia Connolly.
Sanchia Connolly.

“Our teacher-friendly, digital resources are incredibly easy to deliver, in a classroom setting or remotely, and significantly ease the stress on students by providing them with a skill-set to cope with challenges.

“Never before has there been a more urgent need to cultivate student wellbeing.

“We provide teachers with all that they need to get on with the business of teaching.

“Moreover, we don’t just want young people to be able to cope with difficulties –– we also want them to flourish and thrive.”

About the programme

The programme is available for subscription on www.nurture4wellbeing.com.

It contains Teacher Plans, PowerPoint presentations, Schemes of Work and Subject Department Plan, with Student Journals available for purchase on www.amazon.co.uk. Year

One of the programme is available as Gaeilge.

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