Drumming, yoga, a virtual reality experience in Wales, and Bollywood dancing. Lessons were put on hold for one day last week when Stamford American School, Hong Kong and Woodland Pre-schools switched the focus to student wellbeing. The campuses joined more than 70 other Cognita-owned schools to celebrate the group’s first-ever Global Be Well Day, as part of an ongoing campaign to improve young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
At Stamford, there was morning yoga, a boot camp for staff and parents on digital wellbeing and the importance of physical activities, and an online mindfulness session with Cognita students worldwide.
Students wore VR goggles to enjoy a moment of peace and quiet in the Brecon Beacons, Wales; created nerve cells with pipe cleaners to learn how emotions are processed; decorated ‘kindness’ flowers; wrote thank you notes to people they are thankful for; and made healthy yoghurt cups.
The school added: "Exercise is a big part of wellbeing, and that was not overlooked. Students were introduced to Bollywood dance, Zumba and tap dance, while some stretched out their limbs and found balance through yoga, Tai Chi and Ba Duan Jin. The unique drumming session was a huge hit among students; they play and danced to the rhythm and were fully immersed in the moment."
With locations across Hong Kong, Woodland Pre-schools held mindfulness sessions for parents and children, and shared ideas such as using smell and sound to regulate overwhelming emotions, and blowing bubbles to help soothe the mind and body.
A spokesperson for Cognita said: “We believe that wellbeing is perhaps the biggest issue facing education today. On Friday September 27, ‘Global Be Well Day’, our 45,000 students around the world stopped normal lessons for the day to focus solely on wellbeing.
"The day took the form of a festival aimed at improving their understanding of wellbeing, with a myriad of practical activities on how to maintain it.”
A 2018 World Health Organisation report found that up to 20% of adolescents experience mental health conditions, and half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age but most cases are undetected and untreated. A recent survey carried out by The Key, a support service for schools in the UK, found that eight out of 10 primary school teachers reported their students suffering from increased mental health issues around the time of their exams.
It is clear that the pressures of the modern world are weighing heavily on the young shoulders of students today – and initiatives such as Global Be Well Day are now an essential rather than optional aspect of any curriculum. Wellbeing needs to be more than a weekly yoga or mindfulness class, or the occasional wellbeing day, and we are seeing it move towards the top of the agenda within many schools.
Cognita’s Global Be Well Day is part of the group’s Be Well programme, which runs throughout the 2019-2020 academic year and beyond. Teachers have access to a suite of learning resources, films, lesson plans, toolkits and other content for to support mental wellbeing throughout the school year.
Cognita has worked with the BBC’s Dr Rangan Chatterjee, sleep scientist Dr Matthew Walker of Berkeley and UCL brain expert Emma Kilford to develop video-based resources for teachers, students and parents. And the group includes a Be Well section on its website featuring tips on how to improve sleep and deal with disruptions such as nightmares and insomnia; how to eat your way to better mental wellbeing; advice on how young people can understand the biology of the brain to manage their emotions; and recommendations on screen time for young people.
Cognita’s CEO, Chris Jansen says: “We’ve worked with top experts in their field and drawn on the diversity of experience across our global group to provide a comprehensive set of tools offering the latest insights, expertise and advice gathered on the critical aspects of young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
“Cognita is committed to sharing this work as widely as possible so that educators, parents and young people everywhere can access it and benefit from it. We believe in creating an inspiring world of education that builds self-belief and empowers individuals to succeed, wherever they go to school.”
Stamford and Woodland are not alone in developing a school culture that supports wellbeing. International schools across Singapore are targeting the emotional health of their students to help ease the pressure to perform in exams, address the negative consequences of social media, encourage a positive body image. Examples include daily mindfulness sessions; wellbeing education lessons; school counselling teams on campus; and parent workshops focused on different aspects of mental health.
Schools are responding with different approaches. For example, at the Canadian International School (CDNIS), a group of teachers have been trained in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which uses mindfulness meditation, yoga and body scanning to reduce stress and increase wellbeing.
Kellett School has introduced Positively Kellett, a programme based on the Australian-based Positive Education model, which blends academic learning with character and wellbeing. The school also runs ‘Feel Good Fridays’ with themes including ‘Feeling Awake’ to highlight the importance of a good night’s sleep and ‘Feeling Relaxed’ to focus on yoga and meditation, and an eight-week mindfulness programme for all Year 6 students.
And at International College Hong Kong (ICHK), Year 7 students complete a four-day Deep Learning unit where they explore the science of happiness, and Positive Psychology is built into the curriculum across all year groups.
Coming soon: How international schools in Hong Kong are prioritising student wellbeing