Making school a positive place to be

Guest blogger Jade Kilkenny tells us why having a positive experience at school can make all the difference to a young person.

Primary school was tough but at high school, that all changed. I went from not wanting to go to school, to it being a real positive. A number of people and things made the difference.

My LAC teacher was a good help. She showed me different ways to study, like using diagrams or coloured pens, helped me with assignments and in the run up to my exams. She also helped with my anxiety, giving me strategies that could help when I felt anxious like holding onto something. But most of all she listened to me and understood I was traumatised. Sometimes she would just sit with me in a room and I would cry the full time, but she just sat and listened to me. She was informal and treated me like a friend. She went out of her way to check I was alright too, like texting me during the summer holidays just to make sure I was ok. She still stays in touch and at times I have gone into school to help other young people who are in care too.

The Home School Partnership officer was in every day from 9-5 and I could go and see her and sit with her anytime and for as long as I needed to. She also created activities that I could get involved in like summer school, where I volunteered to help younger kids. It was really good and helped me gain confidence in myself and learn how to mentor young people. I still use these in my work now.

I remember one time I lost my phone and I was really upset because it was a way to keep in touch with members of my family who I had good memories and times with before I came into care. I was devastated but the janitor and the Head Teacher bought me a new one. It wasn’t the phone that mattered though, it was the fact that they listened, understood and could empathise with why this was so traumatic for me that really mattered.

Teachers in certain subjects were good too. Like my IT teacher made me laugh and feel good about myself. My English teacher would sometimes sit and have lunch with me. If I didn’t have something I needed for class the teachers wouldn’t make a big deal out of it or ask me in front of the class. They might speak to me about it later on my own but they didn’t embarrass me. There were even teachers who didn’t take my classes but that would just say hi. Taking time to build a relationship really matters.

But anyone in the school can do that, not just teachers. The librarian would always talk to me and remembered what we had spoken about the last time, asking me things like how am I doing now, how was my family – if I went in today she would still remember me. Even the janitor took time to check I was ok.

It wasn’t just people though. Having a safe space to go in school made me want to go to school. The Home School Partnership Officer’s room was my safe space. It had pictures and art work on the wall and it was nice in there, it was informal with cups of tea and chairs scattered about the room rather than sitting round a table. There was stuff on her desk you could pick up and hold or play with. There were always other young people there who were going through similar things too who you could take to or have your lunch with.

The supports I got in school were important too. Youth groups, activities, drop-ins, help when I was the victim of bullying and bereavement groups were all useful. It was also the small things, like allowing extra time for school work even though I hadn’t been diagnosed with dyspraxia yet (although if I had been diagnosed at school this would have been much better).

I left school four years ago but I still go back and to see the Home School Partnership Officer. Everyone at the school knows me and it feels nice to go back. I didn’t have a positive experience of my foster placement but having my school and positive relationships made sure this did not have a negative impact.  If high school had not been such a positive experience, things could have been really different.

About our blogger

This month’s blog is from Jade Kilkenny who writes about her positive experiences of the support she received whilst at school. Jade is an apprentice at Community Justice Scotland, a member of the Justice and Care workgroup of the Independent Care Review and is eager to ensure that relationships are prioritised when supporting young people. You can hear more from Jade here.

If you’d like to blog about your own lived experience and what helped you, please email ross.a.gibson@strath.ac.uk.


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