Supporting learners through the pandemic

Anxiety written out using scrabble pieces

There are a range of issues outside a student’s education programme that can have an impact on college life and Coronavirus is no exception.

Andrew Wickson, Team Leader of the Emotional Wellbeing Service, explores some of the strategies National Star has put in place to support learners through these challenging times.

The way students have responded to the Coronavirus pandemic has been phenomenal. Their ability to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances created by the virus is remarkable and, now more than ever, their courage and resilience should be celebrated.

It is true however that some have found the past few months extremely challenging emotionally. We have, and will, continue to provide ongoing support to those who need it.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we developed an ‘Emotional Wellbeing Toolkit’, which was distributed to all students. This included behaviour support strategies, Creative Therapies activities, resources to support emotional expression, and the development of self-awareness and calming techniques.

We have continued to deliver Dramatherapy, Music Therapy and Talking Therapies, including online sessions for those students accessing their college programme remotely during lockdown. The emotional benefits of singing are widely recognised and great efforts were also made to pre-record choir sessions for students. We have worked together with some families to continue support outside college when it has been identified that learners may need this.

Drawing on the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy model, ‘Worry Plans’ were created with some students. These have helped to identify specific worries and assess how big a worry feels. Students then worked with staff to put strategies in place to help tackle their worries and build resilience.

National Star’s multi-disciplinary approach has come into its own during the pandemic. Members of the Emotional Wellbeing Service have worked closely with our experienced Speech and Language Therapy team to create personalised social stories, helping students better understand what is happening, including the use of PPE, and how to keep safe and adapt to ever-changing routines. Students have been guided through their social stories at the same time each day, providing reassurance and helping to establish new routines.

In addition, we have used a range of symbol-based systems and strategies such as ‘Talking Mats’ and Coronavirus-specific communication grid sets, to ensure that students have the necessary vocabulary to express their needs, feelings, and wishes in a world where we are all learning new language and terminology.

Coronavirus has been challenging for everyone, but thanks to National Star’s multi-disciplinary approach, we have done our best to help the young people in our care manage their fears and anxieties. We will continue this work throughout 2021, reviewing our strategies and maintaining a personalised approach to supporting students.

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