Time to Thrive at San Clemente

High school is a rite of passage and an opportunity for young people to thrive in their surroundings whilst building the skills they need to become happy and successful young adults. Two staff at San Clemente High School, Mayfield, Scott Donohoe and Nathan Beckett, with the support of the principal, Tony Kelly, introduced a positive education program (PosED@SCM) in Term 1, 2015, designed to strengthen student well-being at the school. 

Assistant Principal Well-being, Scott Donohoe said, “The need for well-being and mental health support for students has always been there. We see young people lacking optimism and hope, and now we’re addressing this in a more explicit way.”

The initiative is the first of its kind on offer to students attending schools in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and grew from an identified need for increased well-being and mental health support for students. Mr Kelly said, “PosED@SCM is a ground-breaking initiative. We’re the only school in the Hunter that has embraced positive education to such a degree. We have the potential to be a real lighthouse in positive initiatives around student well-being.”

The positive education program involves fortnightly student group sessions led by staff mentors. The sessions focus on identifying each student’s character strengths and how they can utilise them. Optimism, hope, gratitude, confidence, resilience, empathy, forgiveness, mindfulness, listening and goal setting all form part of strength-building exercises and are achieved by following the program’s five key steps to well-being: to connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and to give and serve others. The key steps are derived from an evidence-based scientific model, the New Economics Foundation Model, and are taught explicitly during the fortnightly sessions and implicitly through use of language within the school.

The program’s implementation has triggered a significant change in language used within the school setting. Welfare is now referred to as ‘well-being’ and roll call staff are now ‘mentors’. Mr Donohoe said, “Positive psychology behind the program gives you a framework, but a common positive language used within the school forges stronger relationships between students and teachers that enable greater connections.” These connections create an environment where students feel valued and are not only ‘just keeping their heads above water’, but are really enjoying and fully participating in what school life has to offer.

“School’s not about surviving, it’s about thriving,” said Year 7 Student Co-ordinator, Nathan Beckett. “Research* indicates the greatest predictor of happiness in young adults is emotional intelligence, followed by social behaviours and then academics.”

PosED@SCM takes a holistic approach in linking student well-being, academic success and sporting achievements, with an emphasis on participation and team work, leading to an increase in overall happiness. “Ultimately, high levels of happiness and well-being lead to optimal learning. This platform leads to the provision of better opportunities for our students,” said Mr Donohoe. These better outcomes for students are eventuating as a result of the staff at San Clemente developing a customised program, specific to their culture and the needs of their students. Skills learned during positive education sessions are utilised in all aspects of school life and reinforced during fortnightly year assemblies. The assemblies focus on content learned from the previous week’s PosED@SCM session and putting that into practice.

As a result of the program, the school’s ‘house’ system was restructured, allowing well-being and support for students to be implemented horizontally in year groups, with the vertical advantage of a new house system, creating a school-wide support network. As part of the program, house competitions commenced in 2015. Teams are rewarded with points for participating in activities such as public speaking, hospitality, music, drama and sport. A Gold Award is also on offer for students who have displayed the ultimate in terms of effort, behaviour and achievement. “This system taps into all areas of school life, so all can contribute and feel valued within the community,” said Mr Donohoe.

An integral part of the program’s success lies in the support of the wider school community. At the conclusion of Term 2, the school invited parents, carers, staff and students to a ‘Celebrating Connections’ event, allowing all to experience the program’s positive effects on student well-being. More than 60 parents and carers attended, a very positive result, indicating a high level of engagement for families also. “Parents are wanting to know well-being is high on the agenda at their child’s school and we’re trying to be proactive in that way,” said Mr Beckett. On the day, teams of students provided catering and entertainment for guests and held house competitions for volleyball and touch football, demonstrating the program’s initiatives.

PosED@SCM has generated positive feedback from students, parents, carers and staff, with teachers seeing an increase in student achievement in the classroom. Contributions made by the Well-being Team and overwhelming support from staff have been at the heart of the program’s success. The PosED@SCM team is now planning to measure formally the outcomes and well-being levels on an ongoing basis. If you would like to learn more about educating your child at San Clemente, please phone (02) 4014 7300.

*Read more about emotional health being a key indicator for a happy adulthood at http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/why-schools-should-teach-character-aswell-as-competence/

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Geri Williams

Geri Williams is the Online Communications and Brand Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. She is also a regular writer for Aurora Magazine.

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