By Dr Alan Parsons
Over the last three years, young people have faced more complexity than recent generations. The long-term impact of the social and economic consequences of the pandemic on current and future students is yet to be fully understood, but it is clear that educators must adapt to the changing needs of children and teenagers. With their foundation of a traditional past, NGS is forging the path for continued excellence in a 21st Century, fast-paced, post-covid, technology-rich era. NGS is currently caring for the wellbeing and mental health of their students, whilst preparing them for the flexibility and adaptability required for their future that awaits.
There is a significant rise in reports of mental health concerns in young people, which can have a direct impact on their learning and on longer term mental health. While exacerbated by the Pandemic (Del Duca, 2021), this rise in mental health concerns amongst young people such as anxiety and depression has been evident for a number of years (Blakemore, 2019; Lawrence, 2015). Newcastle Grammar School, which already actions a robust, scientifically based approach to student wellbeing, is taking steps to strengthen their programme to help the students in their care flourish.
In recent years, Newcastle Grammar School has introduced a whole school Positive Education framework. Newcastle Grammar School is an accredited Visible Wellbeing Partner School, an international coalition of schools that place wellbeing at their core. The School has implemented the SEARCH Framework (Strengths, Emotional management, Attention and awareness, Relationships, Coping, and Habits and goals) which was born from rigorous research investigating the pathway to human flourishing and wellbeing (Waters & Loton, 2019; Waters et al., 2017). This has involved extensive training of staff in wellbeing science and explicit instruction to students from Kindergarten to Year 9 to help them develop the tools needed to maximise their own wellbeing, in addition to specific Positive Education interventions such as the Annual Year 11 Conference and the focused interventions of the House Terms. With experts in the field of Positive Psychology – the scientific study of human flourishing and what makes life meaningful – on staff at NGS, our students are in good hands. Using the tools available through The VIA Institute on Character, https://www.viacharacter.org/, our students are taught to recognise and employ their character strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004), and develop an awareness of their performance strengths, talents, skills, interests, and resources as protective factors and their pathway to wellbeing. They can identify their Signature Strengths and the traits that make them unique, appreciating strength characteristics in themselves and others.
Developing the language of wellbeing literacy in the students has enabled a strong transition out of the recent pandemic, to ensure they have the best opportunity to flourish. International research has indicated an increase in mental health concerns, including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), amongst young people as a consequence of the Pandemic (de Miranda et al., 2020). In this light, a research study undertaken by Professor Lea Waters and her team from the University of Melbourne's Centre for Wellbeing Science Involving 404 students in Years 7 to 11 at Newcastle Grammar School investigated the possibility of Stress Related Growth (SRG) in students who had experienced the protective factors of a strengths-based Positive Education wellbeing programme. The researchers found "the more students reported they had been taught the skills for increasing their levels of 'SEARCH', the more they were likely to utilise adaptive coping skills during remote learning" (Waters et al., 2021, p. 8). The researchers further concluded that Positive Education interventions based in wellbeing science as implemented at Newcastle Grammar School play "an Important role in preparedness and prevention for future challenges". Rather than Post-traumatic Stress, these students exhibited Post-traumatic Growth and increased resilience.
The NGS Strategic Plan 2023-2025 builds on these steps to extend the model and integrate wellbeing into every child’s experience at NGS. The school is taking into account how students access the programmes and services they need on their journey, especially in the post-COVID-19 environment where social support services have been stretched thin. In addition to teaching students the mental and emotional skills to navigate the ever-changing world, NGS is also looking at how having a variety of skills will be as important, if not more, in the future jobs market.
Technology advances, increased job mobility and the rise and fall of industries in a relatively short period of history, are all affecting the options available to graduates. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 34% of people are staying in the same job for only 1-4 years. People are also more likely to switch careers at a higher rate than they ever have. While tertiary education and job training is still vital for many employers, the need for students to be adaptable, have high problem-solving capacities and be able to quickly learn new technologies, systems and programmes will make them more sought-after employees in the future. Some primary-aged students of today will enter the workforce into jobs that don’t even exist yet.
The strategic direction of NGS is centred around achieving high-quality, innovative and tangible outcomes for Newcastle’s young people and the greater community. By helping them understand and navigate what they have experienced in the last three years, Newcastle Grammar School is well placed to prepare the next generation for their outstanding futures.
Blakemore, S.-J. (2019). Adolescence and mental health. The Lancet (British edition), 393(10185), 2030-2031. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(19)31013-X
de Miranda, D. M., da Silva Athanasio, B., Oliveira, A. C. S., & Simoes-e-Silva, A. C. (2020). How is COVID-19 pandemic impacting mental health of children and adolescents? International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 51, 101845.
Del Duca, M. (2021). Working With Students Battling COVID Anxiety: School-based practitioners are well-positioned to note warning signs of pandemic-related stress and mental health issues.(ON THE JOB: SCHOOL MATTERS). ASHA leader, 26(2), 28. https://go.exlibris.link/vqdQ29Yx
Lawrence, D., Johnson, S., Hafekost, J., Boterhoven de Haan, K., Sawyer, M., Ainley, J., & Zubrick, S. R. (2015). The mental health of children and adolescents: Report on the second Australian child and adolescent survey of mental health and wellbeing. Canberra: Department of Health
Peterson, C. F., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: a handbook and classification. American Psychological Association. http://griffith.summon.serialssolutions.com/2.0.0/link/0/eLvHCXMwpVxNT8MwDLXYdpnEgQETG2wrP2BTmzVfR1Zt2pFJ3Kum8WCXHkZB4t_jtE2ZQHBBOVpxZMvykx0_AyzZIpx_ywnWSJ4TFqkoypDpCLVhEq0lgMx5KMy_OxkUd7FUHejEktUlWNtpcfRQysn1Ph0eCUkI6CheTFEAEp41m59aoWg2QXk5P-He_MjYFQxtLqCHjpswgDMsLqHfJq-PK5glfvNy4OgfxXP58hpkhQ3eD8eSFF3D_Wb9lGzn_o20MTf1VonlEM4zN_BelBUxzt5AYFWotFAY2z2PDVeZMgKt0HmOkmoIPoLx7wpHMPNmpNWnbDMJmq5XCZOazviv67fQrwdYXCfiDrrl8Q0nX06aVv6fQu9htXvcfQK5aI_S
Waters, L., Allen, K.-A., & Arslan, G. (2021). Stress-related growth in adolescents returning to school after Covid-19 school closure. Frontiers in psychology, 12. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.643443
Waters, L., & Loton, D. (2019). SEARCH: A Meta-Framework and Review of the Field of Positive Education. International Journal of Applied Positive Psychology, 4(1), 1-46. https://doi.org/10.1007/s41042-019-00017-4
Waters, L., Sun, J., Rusk, R., Cotton, A., & Arch, A. (2017). Visible wellbeing and positive functioning in students. In L. O. Mike Slade, Aaron Jarden. (Ed.), Wellbeing, recovery and mental health. Cambridge University Press.