School News and Head's Blog
Posted on: 22/05/2020
Weekly News - Friday 22nd May 2020Speech Competition
Today we held our first ever online speech competition finals. Congratulations to all of our finalists; they left us all thoroughly entertained in the junior and senior competitions, performing their poems and speeches with confidence and conviction. Here is a list of all the winners and highly commended entries.
Highly Commended: Samuel 1HC, Evie 1C, Sienna 2H
Year 1 Winner: Aaryav
Year 2 Winner: Hana
Year 3 WInner: Oliver
Junior Champion: Oliver (3M)
Highly Commended: Vidhit 5G, Harrison 6RD
Year 4 Winner: Diyan
Year 5 Winner: Samir
Year 6 Winner: Catherine
Senior Champion: Catherine 6RD
A huge thank you also to our judge and school governor, Miss Beckett, who gave her time throughout the week to watch the entries and provide excellent feedback to the children. To all those who did not make the final this year: well done for taking part in the competition. Keep practising and next year it could be you!
Big Dreamers Writing Competition
Throughout the week, children across the school have been writing short stories for a national competition run by National Book Tokens and Puffin. There is a 300-word limit and the theme is 'dreams.' There are many fantastic prizes to be won, including £200 in book vouchers. If your child has not yet participated, you may wish to help them complete a story and submit their entry over the half-term holidays as a fun creative writing activity. Full details can be found here.
Singing Competition Finals - Middle School and Upper School
Thank you for the many video entries we received for our online singing competition. Although it was a very difficult decision as usual, the following students have been selected for the finals.
The finals will take place during the afternoon of Friday 5th June. Further information will follow shortly. Students do not need to resubmit videos, unless they are asked to, and they will not need to sing live. Please note that the submitted video entries will be shown to all spectators during the afternoon of 5th June. Our judge for the final round of the competition, Mrs. Crehan, will choose her winners.
We wish all of the finalists the very best of luck!
Today was Mrs. McLaughlin's last day with us for the time being and we all wish her well as she begins her maternity leave and she and Mr. McLaughlin await the arrival of their first child! It was so lovely to hear the children of 3M give her a send off this morning just before the Junior Speech Competition. The children had created a beautiful video montage, Yousra read a lovely poem about 'Why God Created Teachers' and Eshanvi read an acrostic poem that she had written herself. After school today, staff joined together in a virtual baby shower to celebrate, and we enjoyed taking part in games and quizzes. We thought you might enjoy this quiz - see if you can guess the staff member from their baby photos! We will share the answers after half term.
Well done to Grace O'H (Y2), who has been baking for the team of managers and call handlers who staff the COVID-19 hub at the Civic Centre, to lift their spirits. Grace has baked gluten free cakes and birthday cakes and even used a genuine WWII recipe to bake a cake for VE Day!
Grace and her family have also been making cloth face masks and homemade filters to slip in the back. As an act of kindness, they have sent these off to vulnerable people around the country and have provided masks to people working in the private sector front line who may have to use public transport to get to work.
Esha T (Y6) celebrated her birthday this week and her family had the super idea of giving the day a French theme, to make up for Esha not being able to go on the Year 6 trip to France this year because of the pandemic. We hope that Esha enjoyed her day - Bon Anniversaire, Esha!
Phased Re-opening and Packed Lunches
Parents of children returning to school in Phase 1 of our reopening are reminded that absolutely NO NUT PRODUCTS may be sent into school in snacks or packed lunches. Please do be vigilant. There are currently children at school with severe/multiple allergies and some products, such as cereal bars, may contain nuts less obviously.
In the hot weather, it will be a good idea to send an ice pack in the packed lunch bag.
Class teachers will be sending out year group specific information ahead of the return to outline daily procedures, which we hope will answer any questions you may have.
Keeping Well At Home
Until 1st June, most of the country are still being asked to stay at home. We are aware that some of you will have to continue staying at home past this date, too, especially if you live with a clinically vulnerable person. This advice about keeping well at home might be useful....let's all keep looking after ourselves!
National Thank A Teacher Day
The staff have been very touched this week at the numerous messages received for Thank A Teacher Day. Some children even made videos. It is really very nice to be appreciated, so huge thanks to everyone who took the time to send messages, photos and videos.
Posted on: 22/05/2020
Community Spirit and WellbeingOn Wednesday evening, we held our first virtual PA Forum meeting. Mrs. Hunt, Mr. McLaughlin, Mrs. Smith and I had no idea how many parents would show up online – especially on such a beautiful, sunny evening – and we were absolutely delighted when we were joined by almost every class rep from across the school!
Having already sought and received feedback from parents, pupils and staff about our current online educational provision, the focus of Wednesday’s meeting was to look at the wellbeing of our community, what we have done so far to promote wellbeing during lockdown, and what more we can do to continue to support you and your children.
We began by looking at what we have been doing so far – you can see the slides I used here – and it was heartening to hear that parents agree that the school has been going ‘above and beyond’ to care for our pupils pastorally as well as academically over the last two months of virtual education. It has been a challenge for us to make sure that pupils have face-to-face contact with their teachers and other staff, but we have tried to make sure they feel supported by school as well as home as they have negotiated a strange, changing and quite frightening world. We have held class and small group Google Meets and have set challenges and activities specifically designed to boost their spirits, as well as making school videos just to say hello! It is so important that our pupils remain happy and positive (and that we all do too), even when there is sadness and negativity around us.
We have kept a focus on parent and staff wellbeing, too. As I wrote last week, the world is a challenging place at the moment for most of us: we are being pulled in many different directions, and the rug is constantly being pulled out from under our feet. I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes:
‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…
It’s about learning to dance in the rain.’
I think we have all, thus far, been doing a wonderful job of dancing together! But there is always more that we can do, and so we asked the PA class representatives at last night’s meeting to brainstorm and let us know how else we can raise the spirits of pupils and parents, and care for their wellbeing. They had some great ideas: among other things, they suggested that pupils dress in rainbow colours or fancy dress for Friday assemblies and that we could encourage SHC pupils to take part in the Mount Everest Challenge or go for a Guinness World Record. While the virtual Sports Day leaderboard (which is ever-changing!) has been a hit, they agreed that it would be good to find more ways for the school houses to compete against each other, and they thought of fun challenges to set the children each week, like timing how quickly they could put on and take off ten pairs of socks!
They also said that it would be great to incorporate some form of brain gym or ’wake up, shake up’ at the start of each online lesson, to counteract the potential negative effects of time spent in front of the screen, and they noted that individual encouragement and reward from school staff is a real motivator for children. We will look further at ways to manage this remotely for those children who will remain at home after half term. The parents also asked if we could manage remote School Council meetings, to allow the pupil voice another channel, and we will be putting this into place for Middle and Upper School children.
The PA are keen to support the community, too, and are looking at ways of hosting a virtual social event. I am sure that many parents are keeping in contact in small groups by arranging online meets too, and I have no doubt that you are providing very valuable support to each other during the strange shared parenting experience you are all going through.
We were very touched when the PA reps asked us how the staff are doing, and told us how very grateful they, and the parent body at large, are for all that we have been doing. There was even an impromptu clap for the school staff, which brought tears to our eyes. I was so proud to be able to describe this at a staff meeting yesterday, and became quite overwhelmed as I relived the moment for my colleagues. It is lovely to be part of a community which recognises that we are all human, and that staff have their own challenges too. I was able to say, with conviction, that our staff are very committed to making the phased return to school work. While there is of course some apprehension about returning to school during a pandemic, there is a great camaraderie amongst the staff body. There is also a real sense of trust in the systems that the school’s Governors and Senior Leadership Team are putting into place, and a desire to return to some recognisable structure and routine. Most of all, staff are looking forward very much to spending time with the children again.
As you can see, the PA class rep’s came up with some fantastic ideas, and we hope to put many of these into action soon. If you have any ideas of your own that you feel might lift our community’s spirits or promote the wellbeing of our children, please, please, share them. Our (email) door is always open and we would really love to hear your ideas, or your children’s ideas, and put them into practice if we can. Please send ideas to Mrs. Smith at email@example.com
Let’s keep on dancing through the storm…together.
Posted on: 15/05/2020
Weekly News - Friday 15th May 2020International Day of Families
It is lovely to know that the children have spent the week engaging in activities to celebrate International Day of Families today. You can see some photos of what they have been up to on our Photo Galleries page.
Well done to our Year 6 children, who have been creating and sharing artwork to decorate a room at Hammersmith Hospital which is being transformed into a 'Rainbow Room'. The room is being used by NHS staff to allow them some quiet, contemplative time in the midst of their often harrowing days and nights.
Speech Competition Finals
Next Friday, 22nd May, the school will be hosting its first-ever online Speech Competition finals! The competitions will take place at the following times via Google Meet, in the same way as an assembly:
8.45 - 10.00 a.m. Junior School Final (Years 1 - 3)
1.50 - 3.00 p.m. Senior School Final (Years 4 - 6)
All finalists have been emailed detailed instructions on how to take part. It will be a fantastic way to bring the community together and end the half term by showcasing the children's public speaking skills!
I have also challenged the children to write their own 'Feel Good Friday' poem this week, all about what makes them feel good. Children in Years 1-6 who would like to write a poem should submit their finished poem to their class teachers next week.
Parent Feedback and 6RD Video
Thank you so much to all of the parents who sent feedback about our remote educational provision via the survey sent out last week. We were very pleased that the feedback was so positive; parents clearly feel that the quality and amount of online teaching is good and that pupils are engaging well and making good progress. We were really touched to read the many individual comments that you took the time to write, thanking your teachers and other staff for all that they are doing. Some parents questioned whether there would be an opportunity for formal feedback from staff to parents this term. The answer is that, while we are unable to hold parents' evenings, teachers will certainly be preparing written end of year reports for each child. The format of these reports will reflect the altered circumstances of the term and they will focus on progress in the core subjects.
Led by Tanishka, the children of 6RD have created a beautiful and very touching video of thanks for their teachers and all of the staff who have supported them during their time at St. Helen's College. Thank you, 6RD - this means so much to us!
Mr. Smith and Mr. Rizzo have been very busy working on the school grounds over the last few weeks.
At Upper School, new fencing has been installed outside the back of Cambria, the Zen Garden has been enhanced with a beautiful new pergola and the Art Studio has been re-furbished.
The gardens and lawns are looking beautiful and we are continuing to maintain our indoor and outdoor spaces to our usual high standards. We can't wait until we can welcome pupils back to enjoy these areas.
At Lower School, where the key worker children are being cared for daily, everything is tidy and well cared for, and we are working on the planted area at the foot of the playground which should soon be looking really good.
Posted on: 15/05/2020
Remote TeachingIt seems timely to stop, draw breath and begin some serious reflection on what we have been able to achieve so far with our remote learning provision this half term. We have now received - overwhelmingly positive – feedback from parents, pupils and staff about this via the surveys we sent out earlier this week, and it is important that, amongst our day to day work, we take time to look back at what we have achieved and look forward to what more we can do.
So much has changed in recent months and as we reflect upon our children’s learning, a few things are most readily apparent. We are now living with the daily reality of technology enabled education and, at St. Helen’s College, we certainly now have in place a robust and really productive teaching/learning platform, with which all staff and pupils are familiar. I am sad that so many schools across the country do not, even now, have a satisfactory online offering in place for their children. It is heartening to hear that the independent sector is able to assist schools less fortunate in their provision and schools such as Eton are facilitating remote learning with their A level students holding tutorials for younger children in the maintained sector.
There has been a great effect on staff, too. With remote teaching, staff are being more self critical; individually and as a whole school, we are surveying parents and children much more frequently than ever before, taking feedback on board, tweaking our practice and so, hopefully, providing even more effective learning opportunities. Staff have enhanced their skills and proved themselves adaptable and resourceful; with this has come a renewal of energy and excitement about our vocation and about what we as individuals have been able to achieve.
For most pupils at our school, there is more independent learning, more enquiry based learning and more project based learning. This has led to some wonderful creativity from your children and some really sophisticated and interesting work being produced. What we have also noticed is that, through remote learning, the children are developing ever-greater self-discipline. The timetable is looser, and there are fewer sanctions for children, who have come to realise that ‘virtue is its own reward’. They understand now, if they did not before, that the benefits of engaging fully, willingly and creatively in their learning are a sense of pride, achievement and happiness in themselves. Parents have played, and continue to play, a huge part in motivating the children to work from home successfully, often while facing the challenge of also working from home in shared spaces. We know that parents will have coped with many difficulties along the way and your support is very greatly appreciated.
I am tempted to say here that we could not have imagined all of this two months ago...however, it is precisely because, here at St. Helen’s College, we did imagine it - and worked quickly to build upon and enhance our existing systems, supporting each other and being willing to upskill ourselves - that it has become such a successful reality!
It is really astonishing to think back to what was asked of school leadership teams and teaching staff at the end of March. With virtually no notice, schools across the country were required to move our entire educational provision online for an unspecified length of time. Nationwide, a flurry began to research and select the best online programmes via which to deliver education, and teachers were required to re-plan almost entirely every lesson that they were due to deliver. We were very lucky that, as a school, we were already using Google Classroom and a flipped learning model in many year groups. This meant that many of our staff were already familiar with planning and delivering lessons using online platforms, and many of our pupils were already familiar with submitting work, communicating online and receiving feedback using these systems.
The last week of term is always a time of ‘finishing off’. While teaching continues, units of work are likely to be drawing to a close, art projects are being finished off and children are refining work, writing out work for Exhibition Day displays, and engaging in Easter-themed activities or creating Mother’s Day cards and gifts. In that final week, following the government’s announcement of school closure, these activities had to suddenly (over one weekend) be replaced with online activities, while teachers also struggled with worries over their own health, the health of their families, and childcare for their own children whose schools were suddenly closed. It was a tough time for staff across the school and I believe, honestly, that we muddled through it as best we could.
During that final week of the spring term and as soon as term ended, our School Governors, the Senior Leadership Team and I began planning in earnest for the summer term. It is hard to remember now, but at that time we had no certainty at all over what the summer term would hold. We had to assume that we would be continuing with remote educational provision, but we had no idea for how long. We had to assume that there was a strong possibility of some of our staff falling ill or being required to self-isolate. We were worried for the health and economic stability of our pupils and their families. We were concerned about how to ensure the long-term viability of the school as an organisation.
Our priorities were threefold at that time:
1. To make our first priority, always, the safety and wellbeing of our whole community: pupils, parents and staff.
2. To ensure that we could continue to provide an excellent education to our pupils, which would include both delivering high quality teaching and maintaining the strong and crucial pastoral relationships between pupils and staff.
3. To consider how best to support parents during the pandemic, by providing supervision for key worker children, by considering the economic, emotional and practical difficulties potentially faced by parents, and by communicating effectively with parents over the necessary changes and decisions faced by the school.
Teachers and senior leaders spent what should have been their Easter holidays re-planning lessons, mastering technologies that were new to them, creating videos in order to boost children’s spirits, and analysing, in depth, the school’s economic challenges. We knew that we needed to work out, quickly but with integrity, how to navigate through the uncertainty with fairness, generosity and good business sense in order to safeguard the school’s future for our pupils, parents and staff, and protect the enormous goodwill and mutual trust on which our community thrives.
Many staff were furloughed; we took advantage of the available Government schemes to help organisations such as ours and we worked out fee adjustments for parents for the summer term in the fairest and most transparent way possible – all the while not knowing if or when a return to school might be allowed. Our teaching staff worked hard, many upskilling themselves and stepping out of their comfort zones, to prepare lessons, make videos, research and curate suitable resources for use online, and alter the curriculum provision and timetables as necessary. We ran training sessions for staff who needed extra support in order to use the online platforms; we developed our own systems for online registration; we considered carefully how pupils could submit work and how work could be assessed and feedback given. Staff recognised that they would need to step outside of their comfort zones, work collaboratively and adapt to new timetables and ways of working. They rose to the challenge with courage and grace, welcoming parents into their classrooms and assemblies as regular visitors.
As the summer term began, with a depleted staff body and continued uncertainty over the pandemic situation, teachers communicated daily with pupils, parents and each other to tweak their practice and ensure that children were engaged in the online learning. As well as preparing and delivering lessons, and being available online for large chunks of the day to assist children in their learning, they monitored pupil attendance and engagement and answered parent queries. All the while, throughout the Easter holidays and during term time, volunteers from amongst the school’s teaching and administrative staff have also come into school daily to care for the children of our key workers, supporting them in their learning, looking after their emotional and physical wellbeing, and ensuring that they could have lots of fun and develop positive relationships with those around them. The family spirit of St. Helen’s College has really shone through, here. Miss Walker’s daughter (Madeline), Mrs. Smith’s son (Charley) and my own daughter (Kiera) quickly volunteered to come onto staff and join the team providing exceptional care and attention for the key worker children and ensuring that they are well-supported in accessing their online learning.
I hope that you will agree that, over these last many weeks, the staff here have never lost sight of how hard a time this must be for parents and children. We share many of your challenges: like you, our workplace has changed beyond recognition; many of our colleagues have been furloughed and we have had to spread ourselves thin in order to get everything done; we miss your children and our colleagues greatly; we have our own children and elderly relatives at home who need us; we are concerned for our own health; like you, we are tired, and worried about what the future will hold. We do not underestimate how great these challenges are for parents, and we have tried to be mindful that our communications are clear and honest, that our systems are user-friendly and that the inevitable demands being placed upon parents should be as manageable as we can make them.
It has not been easy, for any of us. And yet, as I wrote recently, there is so much to be proud of and grateful for. We are particularly grateful for the overwhelmingly positive and supportive feedback that pupils and parents gave through the recent online learning surveys. Many of you took the time to send messages of thanks to teachers and the school for all that we have been doing – and this week, entirely independently, the children of 6RD also made a ‘thank you’ video for staff, collaborating virtually in order to do so. These words and gestures mean so much to us. We do our jobs because we believe passionately in the power of education and because we love your children; we do not do them for recognition, but we are human and to hear your appreciation cannot help but boost our spirits and make everything seem that little bit more worthwhile. So thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.
With the news that schools are being asked to begin a phased re-opening after half term, we are once again doing a lot of planning in order to put rigorous processes in place. As with the news of closure, three things remain our priority: to safeguard the wellbeing of our whole community, to continue to provide an excellent education and first class pastoral care for our pupils, and to maintain an open, honest, mutually supportive relationship with parents so that we may continue to work together for the good of all. Next week, I will share more details with parents of exactly what our phased school re-opening will involve and how we are preparing for it. In the meantime, you might be interested to read this TES article which details how a school in Denmark have found their re-opening, and how they, like us, have come to realise that there are benefits to remote learning as well as to traditional teaching.
Posted on: 8/05/2020
Weekly news - Friday 8th May 2020VE Day Celebrations
The whole school really entered into the spirit of celebrating the 75th anniversary of VE Day this week, with a variety of activities taking place across the year groups. We couldn't have our planned street party at school, but the children certainly made up for it with their enthusiasm!
In our Monday assembly, Patrick, our St. Helen's College History Prefect, introduced us to VE Day, by sharing some of his knowledge with everyone. He spoke very knowledgeably. Catherine performed a wonderful rendition of the popular war time song, the White Cliffs of Dover, accompanying herself on the piano.
Across the school, children and staff were dressed in red, white and blue and many were waving flags and had decorated their rooms with bunting, which could be clearly seen in our Google Meets!
In Year 1, the children were busy writing postcards, diaries from the front line and even creating their own radio broadcasts to announce Victory in Europe! There were also activities such as quizzes and designing World War 2 medals. Reception staff and children really entered into the spirit of VE Day! They were making flags, videos and creating pictures. Even the Star Leader bears took part in the shared celebrations!
Children in other year groups created amazing posters. They also planned, researched and calculated the cost of a VE Day party, did word searches, took part in guided reading about VE Day, joined in with songs from the era and even tried out baking some World War 2 recipes!
Our Reception children (Kingfishers and Owls) made a video to wish everyone a happy VE Day and to show off their red, white and blue clothes and the flags and other decorations they had made. Here they are celebrating:
Brendan Q (Y1) made his own black and white broadcast to celebrate VE Day. You can see this here:
You can see other photos from our VE Day celebrations on our Galleries page. All round, it was a fantastic effort from the St. Helen's College community to celebrate this very special day!
It is so wonderful to hear that our pupils and parents are such great ambassadors and upholding our school values within our community. Advik S from 3M recently donated birthday money, which he had left over from earlier this year, to two very deserving causes. He has given £50 to Great Ormond Street Hospital and another £50 to the Colonel Tom Moore fundraiser for NHS.
Mr. Kumedzina is a Station Commander for the London Fire Brigade and also the Head Karate Coach for South West of England. The Kumedzina family have been training together to keep fit during lockdown, and the London Fire Brigade Charity have been raising money for the NHS by doing a 365 hour non stop run to emulate the 24 hour efforts of the NHS across a 7 day period.
Each participant has a board which is dedicated to a person or cause and Mr. Kumedzina dedicated his to his daughters and all the other children of St. Helen's College who have been working so hard at home. To support this effort, Myla ran for an hour to show her support.
We are thrilled to share the news that Mr. Tovell (4T) and his wife are expecting a baby! The new baby will become a little brother or sister to their son Teddy. Many congratulations to Mr. Tovell and family!
Sadly Mr Aguiar, our Spanish teacher, will not be teaching the children remotely due to ill health (which is not Covid-19 related). In his absence there will still be Spanish provision for the children which will be overseen by Mrs. Stark, our Head of MFL and other staff who have a good level of proficiency in Spanish. We ask parents to be mindful not to contact Mr. Aguiar at this time.
Upper School 'Hello' Video
The Upper School staff shared a video this week to say 'hello' to all the children. We are missing them all so very much! The video was published on the Learning Portal.
Wellbeing for all working remotely
During this period of remote learning it is very important that we all make sure we think about our health, safety and wellbeing. We are all spending much more time on our PCs, laptops, tablets and smartphones. Teachers are preparing and delivering lessons to your children and many of you as parents are also working remotely. Never before has so much time been spent online by us all. It is important that this should be done in the safest way possible ensuring we do not put undue strain or stress on our bodies.
As a staff we have all been assessing our home workstations and I am sure that your employers have also been advising you of the same.
This short video here shows some simple ways to adjust workstations and you may wish to complete your own basic workstation assessment at home for your children and yourself using this simple checklist.
As a school we are encouraging our staff to switch off from work and their workstations to enable them to recharge for the next day and to adopt a schoolwide email curfew between the hours of 7pm and 7am. I am sure that many of you have this in place with your place of work too. Please do be mindful that staff may not reply to your email until the next working day if you do send something to them in the evening - they are not ignoring you but are being encouraged to look after their wellbeing in order for them to be refreshed for the next day. Thank you for your support in this matter.
If you share a device with your child, it is strongly recommended that you log out of your account before allowing your child to use the device. If you do not, you are giving your child access to applications and information that you may not wish them to see. In addition, if you are logged onto a gmail account, your child will encounter problems with applications such as Google Meet. When multiple gmail accounts are used, Google sets the first account to be logged on as the default account. So, for example, if your child clicks a Meet link they will be taken to it with your account details and they will not be able to join. If siblings share a device, they should also sign out of their Google accounts after use.
We will be seeking feedback regarding this term's online learning provision from parents, staff and pupils next week using questionnaires developed by RSAcademics, a well-established and highly regarded educational recruitment and consulting company. Thank you for taking the time to complete the survey when you receive it.
In addition, we will be holding a virtual PA Forum meeting to focus on pupils' wellbeing and the wellbeing of our whole school community. This will take place on Wednesday 20th May at 7 p.m. If you have any points that you would like the PA representatives to discuss with Mrs. Drummond, Mr. McLaughlin, Mrs. Hunt and Mrs. Smith, then please forward these to your representative as soon as possible. Class representatives should forward points for discussion to Mrs. Smith by Friday 15th May, please, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Book for Upper School
For those of you who enjoyed Anna Farher's 'The Umbrella Mouse' adventure with Pip....great news! The sequel to Anna's debut book is now available for pre-order. Please follow the link https://www.waterstones.com/book/umbrella-mouse-to-the-rescue/anna-fargher/sam-usher/9781529003994
Posted on: 7/05/2020
Lockdown by Mrs. CrehanMrs. Drummond, who is leading the school brilliantly in these strange times of teaching online, has asked me to write a blog on ‘lockdown.’ It seems pertinent to do so in a week when we are remembering the great sacrifices made by generations before us as we celebrate VE Day. Certainly their experiences, living through a war, were much harder than ours today, but there are some parallels to be drawn. We are having to pull together, show bravery and resilience, acknowledge and support the front line workers and look for the joy in the little things just as our grandparents and great-grandparents had to back then.
I remember us as a Senior Leadership Team writing a policy for Pandemic Flu about 12 years ago and thinking that such an event would never happen, and yet here we are in exactly those circumstances! Luckily the forward thinking of the school and the expertise of our staff meant that we were well prepared to teach online and that the children were already used to this way of teaching. Indeed, a recent article in The Times noted that state school children are currently at a disadvantage in comparison with the independent sector as we are well ahead with online learning.
Lockdown will have affected families in different ways, according to whether parents are able to continue with their line of work, or whether they have had to stop completely. Parents are also faced with needing to help educate their children online, often alongside a heavy workload of their own, which can’t be easy.
We are all seeing a lot more of our immediate family and little of our extended families. I hope that you are enjoying the time you are spending with your families, as the usual rush of getting out of the house has gone for most of us, and we actually get some quality time with each other. We can also appreciate that close proximity of your loved ones for extended periods of time under stressful circumstances may not be all sweetness and light either!
Our situation in the Crehan household is probably fairly unusual in that four of our children with partners and grandchildren all opted to stay with us at the beginning of the lockdown, so there are thirteen of us here. There are pop up offices dotted around the house in the most unlikely places, and Mr. Crehan has been known to hold Google Meets while sitting on the stairs. We have to take our exercise in small groups so that we are not suspected of breaking the rules, and buying food can be embarrassing because my trolley is so full it looks as though I’m hoarding – especially as I am also providing for my 90 year old parents!
I feel guilty saying it, when so many are grieving or ill, but our lockdown experience has been enjoyable and busy. We have been fortunate in that we have avoided the virus so far and therefore spending an intense time at home with more of our family than we usually see, including one son who we hadn’t seen for a year because he was living in the Philippines, plus his lovely girlfriend, has been an unusual bonus. The weather has been amazing too!
Early on I bought a whiteboard online, and didn’t digest its measurements, which turned out to be large enough to take up a huge part of the kitchen wall, and on this people write down activities or whether they are prepared to cook on a particular night. We also have a column where we have a letter of the alphabet per day with relevant pictures beneath to encourage the three year old before he starts school.
We have got into a good routine (yoga at 8.00 a.m., singing for a video at 10.00 a.m.!) and everyone plays their part voluntarily in keeping the job of catering for so many people quite manageable. We have our three grandchildren living with us too, so some of the childcare has also been shared.
I volunteered to make some singing videos for the younger classes, particularly Ducklings where I would normally have done a weekly sing, and I have enjoyed this very much. We have made one almost every day so far, which has been a great routine to get into first thing in the morning. My daughter Lucy has been my action partner, as I can’t do actions for the children while accompanying on the guitar. (Although she is very pregnant so hopping like a kangaroo may not have happened as the song action required!) In the sessions we have had Teddy who is three years old, Bethan who is one, and behind the camera, the 5 month old Cleo with her mum, so there is an occasional cry from the unseen baby.
Each day I choose a new topic as a theme for songs and I think I must have covered most possible topics. I began with our usual songs but soon wanted to learn new ones, and having a daily topic meant that I researched songs from different times from the ancient nursery rhymes to war songs to the present day. It was a challenge learning a large number of new songs daily so I hope that parents who view them with their children will excuse the frequent mistakes (the tune of some songs may change slightly from verse to verse!) and amateur nature of the videos, but will also be amused by the antics of the children who were my measure as to whether the songs were appropriate for their age group. Bethan, the one year old, discovered an affinity for the camera from the start so there are many close-ups of her as she enjoys seeing herself! Mr. Crehan has also made a fleeting appearance, carrying props for our songs behind us in a couple of sessions, and he ‘swam’ behind us in full diving gear for Under the Sea! I wrote out the lyrics and stuck them on the side of the table and onto a drying rack, and frequently the children would wander in front of the words so that my view was obscured, leading to halts in transmission!
I have experienced a feeling of handing down treasures of songs, however imperfectly, that may have been forgotten today – there are many songs on Youtube but the quality of modern songs offered for today’s younger children is generally not very high, and it was great to delve into songs from the past as well as the better ones from today – several pop songs made it onto my list too! I even rediscovered a song that my grandmother had taught to me, which I had forgotten about. This experience has made the word ‘traditional’, i.e. the handing down from the past, feel very real and natural, especially as my past now goes back quite a long time!
Hopefully our St. Helen’s College family will come through this period safely and the children will not be disadvantaged by having their lessons online for a couple of months. Whatever their experience, it is a global one and they are living through something unprecedented in our history. 2020 will be in the history books like 1666.
I suspect that most of you are very busy but you may also be enjoying acting as co-educator of your children in a way you’ve never had time to do before. I’m sure that for the majority who are at home, it will not be easy juggling your jobs with your childcare. However, if we can stay healthy, and I do appreciate that some of us will suffer illness and loss which is difficult and tough, the positive side of this surreal situation is having time when we are not on the usual hamster’s wheel of life where we hardly see our families or our homes. It reminds us that however important our jobs, it is our families that are the most precious thing in our lives.
So stay safe, keep showing bravery and resilience and, if you can, keep finding the joy in the little things. In the words of the song sung by Vera Lynn during the 2nd World War, ‘We’ll meet again, (do know where), don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day!’
Posted on: 1/05/2020
Weekly News - Friday 1st May 2020Ready Steady Read Initiative Helps Raise Over £5000 for St. Helen's College Readers!
Last half term the school took part in a sponsored reading challenge called Ready Steady Read to boost our World Book Day celebrations. The response from the St. Helen's College community was quite astonishing and proved, yet again, just how much our pupils love to read! Altogether, we raised a phenomenal £2,393, a truly excellent effort. One of our parents, Ms Iqbal, supported the event through her role at Usborne publishers and we are very grateful that she has also offered us a generous boost of 60% extra on our order for the next academic year. Together with a large school contribution, this gives us over £5,000 to make for a truly exciting book order, ready for the 2020-21 school year. Every penny will go towards improving our class readers and boosting our school libraries to ensure that we have the very best reading materials available to each child. We are sure that the children will all be very excited about the new books coming their way!
We would like to give a special mention to Rhys M, Maicen M, Arya A and Liberty Y for their splendid fundraising efforts. Our heartfelt thanks go to every single pupil who took part, and to the families and friends who were so generous with their sponsorship. You have all helped to strengthen even further the reading programme at our school, an area that is so vital to all learning across the curriculum.
Helping In The Community
Manisher L (5G) decided to work on a project over the Easter holidays to help those in her road who might be vulnerable, elderly or isolated. You can see what she did by watching her video below.
Shakira (4T) is busy making pop up cards for homeless and elderly people, just to let them know they aren’t alone. Here is one of her cards - they look sure to brighten someone's day.
Anjika (4T) turned 9 this week and decided to do something different for her birthday, so she created a video to raise money for Hillingdon Foodbank and has raised almost £300 so far!
Many of our staff and parents are NHS responder volunteers and have been responding to calls in their local communities, delivering supplies, helping with the transport of medical equipment, or simply making supportive telephone calls to those who are alone and vulnerable.
Red Cross Kindness and Resilience Activities
If you are looking for inspiration for ways in which your child can develop their kindness and resilience during the lockdown, you might be interested in the activities posted by the Red Cross on their website. Parents/pupils can sign up for email updates too.
All of the free, online activities will be linked to the Red Cross Kindness Calendar and will:
encourage simple acts of kindness
connect family and community
provide creative and quick ideas for learners
cover topics including first aid, preparedness, wellbeing and empathy.
Action for Happiness
You might also like the Action for Happiness calendar for Meaningful May, which you could print and display at home, or check online each day. This gives a simple prompt for each day to help us all to lead happier lives. We display these calendars in the staff rooms at school to help our staff to choose happiness and we thought that parents and children might enjoy them too!
It has been wonderful to see the array of work which is going on around our 'remote' school this week. The children have been very creative in their approach to tasks and sport and fitness is definitely highly featured! We have seen some super Sports Day preparation going on in gardens, with excellent standing long jumps being achieved! You can see the Ogretici family practising their standing long jump here:
Well done to Jasmine B and Alex S (Y6) for their incredible 'shake table' constructions. We enjoyed sharing their experiments through the videos they submitted. You can see these here:
Feel Good Fridays
Our first 'Feel Good Friday' today saw pupils dress in their House colours and submit entries for our competition, getting creative in designing or creating something to show what their house means to them. You can see some entries on our Galleries page.
Next week, Friday is a bank holiday and there will be no online teaching/learning that day and no key worker supervision in school. On this day, Britain will be commemorating the 75th anniversary of VE Day, when the guns fell silent at the end of the war in Europe. As a school community, we will mark this momentous day on Tuesday 5th May. This will be introduced on Monday in assembly and pupils will take part in VE activities on Tuesday morning. On Tuesday, pupils may wish to wear something in a VE Day style (clothes from the era) or to dress in red, white and blue. It is not quite the day we had planned to have if we were in school, but please do encourage your children to share some of their learning with you. You may also wish to create your own VE Day bunting to hang in your windows - please see:
Please do share any photos with us if you have a special 'garden party lunch' or other celebration at home to mark this momentous day.
Sadly the commemorative concert at The Barbican, in which our Chamber Choir were due to take part, has been cancelled. We hope that when we return to school we can record some of the songs which the children were learning for the event and share them with you all.
Hello Video - Lower School
The staff of Lower School have shared a video of themselves saying 'hello' to the children from lockdown in our own way. This is available on the Learning Portal. The Upper School staff will be publishing a video soon too, so do look out for that. We miss the children so much and can't wait until we are all back together!
We are delighted that Mrs. Jane Smith will be joining our team of Peripatetic music teachers as our new flute teacher from September. Mrs. Smith has taught pupils from various schools over her teaching career, including at Wycombe Abbey and Dr. Challoners. Please contact Mrs. Allery if you are interested in your child starting flute lessons in September as there are some spaces available due to our Year 6 pupils leaving. Mrs. Allery can be reached at: email@example.com.
The Parent Practice
For those of you who have found Elaine Hannigan’s practical advice useful, please see the latest podcast, episode 23, on ‘screen time sanity in lockdown’, where she interviews Victoria Markhou, mother of two and a parenting coach.
The Global Classroom
On Tuesday 5th May at 4.30 p.m., The Global Classroom are holding a real-time interactive event that aims to help children understand what COVID-19 is and gain a better understanding of what they can do to keep themselves safe and healthy. The live online broadcast will promote safe hand hygiene to all children taking part. It is in partnership with WHO, UNICEF, Scarisbrick Hall and is supported by the Independent Schools Association via Microsoft Teams. All schools are invited to take part - find out more. We hope that you will encourage your children to join in.
John Lewis/Waitrose Competition: Design A Super Hero Bear
John Lewis/Waitrose are running a competition for children to design a superhero-themed bear to grace their shelves this Christmas. All proceeds will go to the NHS in support of all their incredible work.
To enter children should simply draw, sketch and design their SuperBear using the template which is available to download here: https://jland.partners/FeelGoodFriday. Children may be as creative as they like! When designs are complete, pupils or parents should share them by email to firstname.lastname@example.org by 5pm on Friday 8th May 2020.
Full details are available here: https://jland.partners/FeelGoodFriday
Thank a Teacher Day - 20th May
Our teachers are working incredibly hard at home and it would be wonderful if any of the children would like to thank their teachers personally. National 'Thank a Teacher Day' is approaching and the children can arrange for a card to be sent to school for their teachers with a personal greeting. Please share this with your children if they would like to get involved in thanking their teachers!
Posted on: 1/05/2020
The Power Of KindnessIn the Upper School live assembly this week we heard from a Year 6 pupil, Krisha, and her sister, Arshia, who participated in Mindfulness training over the Easter Holiday. Krisha spoke to the children about how the way we think can affect what we do and how we behave. She encouraged the children not to let their thoughts become feelings too easily.
How wise and pertinent these words from an 11 year old pupil to her peers are at this most difficult time for us all when we find ourselves spending many more hours at home than ever before. Often we may find ourselves overthinking our feelings and worries and this in turn may lead us to behave in a thoughtless manner. ‘Mindless’ is the term that I like to use with the children to describe this sort of behaviour. We need to ‘respond’ to our feelings and thoughts in a mindful manner rather than ‘react’ in a mindless way.
Last week's blog focussed on adaptability and I am hugely proud of how our community are adapting. As the weeks of remote learning continue, our children’s and our own resilience will no doubt be challenged. Resilience means learning how to cope with uncertainty, how to make the most of the resources and connections you have around you, and how to adapt to changing situations.
Kindness is a big part of resilience: without kindness and support, dealing with difficult situations becomes much harder. Building resilience is also about being kind to yourself, so that challenges become easier in the future. Resilience and kindness build a stronger you and a stronger community.
The British Red Cross have embraced ‘Kindness' on their website and there is an array of resources available there to help children and families to be more resilient. There are also suggestions for ways in which we can celebrate ‘The Power of Kindness’. The children from Lower School and Upper School are being encouraged to record their kind acts in a small booklet which you can download from the Red Cross website, and you may also wish to download the ‘Power of Kindness’ calendar. Please take a look at the website here.
On the news each day we hear of amazing acts of humanity and kindness which people are carrying out through this coronavirus pandemic, and each day I hear stories of pupils, staff and parents which underline that, as a community, we also are playing our part. You will see in the news this week that Manisher L (Year 5) has been working to build a local community of support in her street, while Shakira V (Year 4) is making cards to cheer up vulnerable or elderly community members. Many of our staff and parents are NHS volunteers, using the NHS Responder app to answer calls and help meet the needs of the sick and vulnerable in their communities. We are taking care of each other, too. The lovely ‘Hello’ videos, compiled by Ms Thomas for Lower School and Mrs. Reid for Upper School, are one of the many ways in which we are working constantly to stay connected and to lift each other’s spirits in these tricky times. These acts of kindness are all helping to build resilience and give us all the tools to adapt to our challenges and respond mindfully to our feelings.
Please do continue to keep in touch and let us know about your acts of kindness. I am so proud to hear of every one, and so grateful to be a part of such a kind, caring, resilient, mindful and - despite all odds - happy community.