The summer months are usually a time of jubilation for school-leavers. After all, they have much to look forward to, from the end of exams to the start of a new chapter in their lives, whether it’s university, a job or something else entirely.
But the coronavirus crisis has plunged them into chaos, with schools shut, exams binned and so much uncertainty over their immediate future. Schools have a starring role to play in supporting their leaving year — a future alumni base.
Data Watts, International Schools Service’s director of research and development, suggests asking leaving-year students to record a quick video (on something like Flipgrid) reflecting on what they will miss and what incoming students have to look forward to. This will engage both groups of students and lift their spirits.
Her son’s secondary school, where he is in his final year, is thinking about doing a full-scale community outreach: asking alumni to write letters of hope and encouragement to her son’s whole year group. “We are hoping for each student to receive five letters from people in our community,” says Watts.
Other schools are featuring their leaving year on social media pages and highlighting their achievements with images and videos, creating a sense of community and pride amid all the gloom.
With students graduating into extreme ambiguity, schools should be trying to raise their resilience, says Lucy Bailey, the CEO of Bounce Forward, an education charity. With schools closed, teachers should share resources online so pupils can practice techniques at home.
She recommends teaching mindfulness, or training attention and awareness to better understand how we feel and to control our emotional response to stressors, which are in abundance amid a pandemic and can negatively impact on our mental health. Mindfulness can be as simple as focusing on our breathing, which can calm us down, Bailey says.
She adds it’s important that schools teach critical literacy skills so students can identify credible sources of information in the current era of fake news. Quality articles are important for addressing fears and uncertainty and planning ahead. “We need to separate fact from fiction. The media is catastrophising everything.”
Being optimistic is important too, she adds, but this must go beyond positive thinking, which can ignore reality. Doing this may make students better equipped to cope with future shocks, she says. “There’s no better time to actually learn to be resilient than in this massive storm. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
For many sixth-form students now is a crucial time to be making decisions about university. Schools can help in this by signposting students to virtual campus tours and admissions events, since universities are in lockdown. Schools could also help find social media groups for incoming university students, so school-leavers can get to know their classmates ahead of the start of term.
For those without a university place, career support for school-leavers will be more critical than ever, with the labour market severely disrupted and jobs disappearing because of the lockdown and economic crisis.
“The work experience, placements and entry-level roles so many were working so hard towards are evaporating. Their chance to fulfil their potential and achieve economic success is under threat,” says Ally Owen, founder of Brixton Finishing School, a 10-week creative programme for underrepresented young people in the media industry.
“In order for schools to support their pupils through this time, they need to be looking beyond what they as institutions can offer and turn to the range of initiatives out there for young people.”
She cites, as an example, Speaker4Schools, which is working to replace lost work placements with an online course for 14 to 18-year-olds.
“Where schools lack the tools and technologies to support learning in the traditional sense, they still have the opportunity to advise students and support them through this new era of virtual learning,” Owen adds.
“This will ultimately go a long way in keeping their students engaged in learning outside of a formal education setting.”Seb Murray is a freelance writer for ToucanTech and contributor to a range of publications including The Times, The Guardian, The Economist and The Financial Times. Seb covers education, business and tech and has interviewed numerous institutions and donors on the topic of fundraising.ABOUT TOUCANTECH: ToucanTech
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