While kids might talk big about hating school, the reality is, the routine of school makes kids feel safe. When that routine is interrupted, the impact can be significant. It begs the question: what initiatives are schools putting in place to help our kids during the disruptions? CARLA NAGEL, the orchestrator of the wellbeing programme at Hong Kong Academy (HKA), provides an insight into this important issue.
HKA’s Wellbeing Programme
“My role is to facilitate the social emotional learning and wellbeing of our students, and that starts in a proactive fashion,” she says. “As soon as they walk through the door, their wellbeing is our priority.” Carla’s programme runs through the entire school, covering students who are about to graduate all the way down to three-year-olds. “Wellbeing needs to exist from the very start,” she says. “When you think about students learning their ABCs – they should also be learning about social relationships. When they’re learning their 123s, they should also have the opportunity to learn about emotional regulation and how to manage different behaviours.”
Preparing students for adverse times
From that early, HKA students are educated about how humans react to adversity. “It’s all about a proactive approach,” says Carla. “Traditionally, we’ve waited for problems to come and then responded to them. But what we try to do here is to get in front of it. We show children how you can solve different types of problems, whether those problems are big or small.”
In fortnightly classes, Carla teaches students a range of strategies that will support them through adversity. “To define problems, we enable children with the right language. They learn to ask, is this a problem that is making me scared? Is it dangerous? Will it hurt somebody?” If the student answers “yes”, then they know it’s a big problem and they need to find an adult. If not, they are taught to deal with it independently using strategies from a problem-solving toolkit.
Studying the anatomy of stress
HKA students are also knowledgeable about the anatomy of stress. They’re taught about the brain, understanding which part of it fires when they’re anxious, and ways they can calm their brain down when this happens. In stressful times, understanding this physical reaction is very powerful.
“When we get to a point of there being adversity (such as now), HKA students have the skills and the structures to be able to help themselves. For example, when they’re told that they can’t come into school and see their friends, they might be a bit worried about that. They might say ‘I’m feeling really anxious right now; my amygdala in my head is firing.’ They’ll ask themselves, ‘What do I need? I need to do some breathing first, and maybe talk to my mum. Or maybe I need to take a break.’”
Connecting with parents
“When you face adversity, one of the things that’s advised is to get into a familiar routine – it really helps establish security,” advisees Carla. Normally, HKA holds regular training sessions for parents, where they come together to discuss and learn about shared struggles.
During the coronavirus school closures, this familiar routine has been continued but in a different format. So, instead of an evening seminar, Carla has shared a video with guidance on how parents should talk to young students about the virus.
For more on this story, visit hkacademy.edu.hk or listen to our podcast at expatliving.hk/living-in-hong-kong-1/podcasts.
This article first appeared in the Spring issue of Expat Living magazine. Subscribe now so you never miss an issue.