Dear Parents and Guardians
I hope this letter finds you and your families well and managing to adjust to a very new learning environment. The Pastoral Leadership Team in St. Mary’s always has the well-being and safety of our pupils at its core. This is perhaps more important now than ever.
I know our Principal, Mrs Kelly, has kept you up to date with developments in school as this emergency situation progresses. I would reiterate her advice on the importance of keeping structure and routine for your sons as they navigate this new and challenging learning environment. Some will struggle with the transition and may become distressed at having to adapt to a very different routine. I want to assure you that we are mindful of how the boys will deal with this.
The Heads of Year have been sending emailed ‘assemblies’ weekly to support the students as they work remotely. Form teachers are also in regular contact with their classes to support them and help answer any queries they have.
Encourage your sons to just do their best, teachers are not expecting that all pupils will be able to achieve the same standards of work had they been in school.
Pupils should set themselves realistic targets to be achieved each day remembering to build in some rest time as well.
Just like adults, children cope best when they have a schedule, so timetable your day, including fitness, chores, creativity and perhaps some cooking. (I’ve painted the bathroom and made shortbread for the first time!)
Older children who haven’t said goodbye to friends starting a different school or college next year have suffered big losses so may be angry or emotional. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and offer as much realistic reassurance as you can.
Encourage your son to keep in touch with his classmates, they should not feel isolated from them. There are many platforms through which this can be achieved such as WhatsApp video calls or Zoom. It could be an opportunity to help someone else in their class or simply be a listening ear when its needed.
Remind your children that this will pass and that one day they will be back running for the bus, handing in homework and wishing that they could just stay at home and watch their favourite TV show, so to make the best of this time; dust down the game of Trivial Pursuits, Scrabble and open up those Mindfulness colouring books you have on the shelf.
I have included below some updated information on a range of services that support wellbeing:
Availability of counselling Sessions
The Education Authority has developed a contingency plan for the provision of Independent Counselling Service for Schools (ICSS). In St. Mary’s this service is provided by Familyworks. We will continue to have access to the counselling sessions allocated to the school. Our school counsellors (Caroline and Natalie) will be able to provide counselling sessions by telephone or secure video calling. Details have been posted on our website and social media platforms.
Mrs Barr has already contacted existing clients by email to inquire if they wished to continue with their sessions and provision made where necessary.
If any student wants to be referred to this confidential service, this can be done directly through the Familyworks website at https://familyworksni.com. Parents can also refer a young person to the service, but clearly you should seek that person’s consent beforehand. If a young person is already receiving help from CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service), that service should continue during this current period of disruption. I would encourage parents of those students to ensure these young people are continuing to engage with CAMHS.
Pupils with Additional Needs
The Learning support staff are in contact with those pupils who are receiving additional support. Mrs Barr has also posted information to support our pupils with Autism. As you will know routine is very important for these pupils. Those pupils on Stage 5 of the Code of Practice are also being carefully supported remotely.
One helpful website for support with reference to mental health is run by an organisation called Young Minds: https://youngminds.org.uk/media/3694/10-wellbeing-tips-for-school-staff.pdf.
In addition, I have attached a great resource issued by the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust which gives very practical advice for pupils on how to look after their mental health.
Online safety is a priority for all of us, particularly now as so much of our communication is web-based. Parents can access a help sheet on our website. This sheet, entitled Thinkuknow: Keeping your child safe online while they are off school is written by CEOP, the online child protection section of the National Crime Agency. There are a range of links within the article which you may find helpful. CEOP have indicated their intention to provide further educational modules in the future.
Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) Payments during Covid-19 Pandemic
The Department for the Economy and Department of Education have confirmed that students in receipt of EMA will not be financially disadvantaged in respect of the support that they would ordinarily be entitled to, and are working closely with the Student Loans Company (SLC) to ensure that EMA weekly allowance and bonus payments continue following school and college closures due to Covid-19. Therefore, in St. Mary’s we will continue to confirm attendance to the SLC on a weekly basis in the normal way.
Free School Meals
The EA (in collaboration with The Minister of Education and The Minister of Communities) has confirmed that arrangements are being put in place for fortnightly direct payments to families who are entitled to free school meals. Parents are aware of this change. Payments will commence on 30th March. Advice for these parents has been added to the News section of the school website.
As we all navigate these unprecedented times, Parentline NI would like to remind you all that their Regional Parents Helpline is in full operation throughout this period. They can be contacted on Freephone 0808 8020 400 to provide advice, support and guidance to parents and carers.
Monday- Thursday 9am-9pm
I can assure you all that we remain committed to providing pastoral support to all pupils, whatever circumstances you find yourselves in at this challenging time. I would ask parents who have queries or pastoral concerns to contact the school in the first instance, by email to [email protected]
I would like to thank all parents and guardians for the incredible work you are doing to support your children and indeed the staff of St. Mary’s during these unprecedented times, I know it is not easy. I would ask that you continue to regularly check our school website and our other social media platforms for updates on all aspects of how we are adjusting to this ever evolving situation.
Finally, as the Easter holidays approach, I would encourage everyone to take time to do something together as a family, take a complete break from school work. I’ve attached a resource I found this week called ‘Covid 19 2020 Time Capsule’. It will give you an opportunity to work together and reflect on this unique time in all our lives and I think you might enjoy it. Good luck.
Please take good care of yourself and your loved ones throughout this time and keep encouraging your sons to stay at home.
Mrs Fiona Crookes