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ISA offer a little “je ne sais quoi” when it comes to physical and emotional wellbeing

You never appreciate what you have, until it is gone. Never has this cliché been more significant than in the last year and half. In lockdown, so much of what we took for granted was suddenly taken away.

However, it also means that we can consider our post-pandemic future with a far clearer sense of what is important. In education, this means recognising that before achievement comes care. Children do not learn effectively unless we first attend to their physical and emotional wellbeing; they need to connect, they need a sense of belonging.

Here at ISA, student wellbeing sits at the heart of everything we do and everything we stand for. We know that healthy communities and positive learning environments are always built on the quality of human relationships. It is even in our mission statement as ‘a safe and caring learning environment’. Not just physical safety, but increasingly, in this time of uncertainty, emotional security too.

We have always recognised that physical and emotional wellbeing cannot be taken for granted. A good example is our physical education (PE) programme. Yes, it has the usual competitive sports – football, volleyball, basketball, and badminton. But it also offers rock climbing, circus skills and even ultimate frisbee!

James Cooper, one of our PE teachers, explains:

“Most kids haven’t played ultimate frisbee before, but it is a skill they can take away from school and enjoy with family and friends. There is a flexibility at ISA, and it is part of a wider programme that encourages certain values, coming together as a community, participation, effort and consistency.”

At ISA every child learns to swim, every child takes part in rock climbing. They are not ranked against others, but rather put in competition with themselves. They face fears – like heights. They challenge themselves to get stronger and improve their own performance. They build trust with peers and discover how to support each other. They learn to take pride in their own progression, and not set too much store in their passing rank against others.

Sport is also an opportunity to connect with the wider world at our school. The ISA volleyball team competes in Scotland, but also in a Norwegian tournament. The football and basketball teams play tournaments in Spain, Portugal, Turkey, and London. This provides unique opportunities not just to compete internationally but also to stay with host families, make friends and learn about other cultures around the world.

We believe in ‘every child, every opportunity’. Participation in sport – the pride in personal progress, the connections it brings and the relationships it deepens are not just for the few or the particularly talented. Sport is for everyone. Nevertheless, some children do excel – our afterschool varsity teams and our connections with community sport allows them to enjoy the thrill of personal excellence.

The first year of secondary school begins at ISA with frisbee; but how does the year end? With circus skills of course! Students learn Chinese yoyo, Japanese diablo, U.S. cup stacking, juggling, and uni-cycling.

Our head of PE Mark DeGraw who has 25 years-experience teaching circus skills under his belt, believes that:

If you teach traditional sports, you usually see the same child that is good at one sport is good at all sports, and the same kids are disengaged – but teach them the unicycle and suddenly it’s not about winning or losing but progressing.”

Circus skills have become a central component of the our PE curriculum and are designed to get students active, develop new skills and boost confidence. It is the perfect balance set against team sports where a focus on individuality; possible skills and hobbies that could roll down a lifetime.

Even more fundamental to our resilience and ability to face change is our Student Wellbeing Team. This includes two full-time counsellors – a Social and Emotional Counsellor and a College Counsellor, four learning support teachers, school nurse and health and safety officer, who work together with our Head of School Nicholas Little, the Assistant Principal and the Head of Early Years, to support the emotional security and wellbeing of a community of 500 students.

Nurturing a sense of community and belonging is fundamental to our approach to child centred learning. A sense of wellbeing begins with a feeling of having some control, feeling respected and feeling listened to.

We should never take for granted the thrill of participation in sport, the value of personal improvement or the joy of connecting and of belonging. Most importantly, the importance of acceptance.

ISA has never forgotten that the foundation of excellence is care and this combined with all of the above add up to a distinctive culture of physical and emotional wellbeing.

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International Baccalaureate Council of International Schools Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools Cambridge International Examinations CNED