September! The month of new beginnings, especially if you’re starting at a new school.
As Year 7 settle in, Soulscape’s Director, Jane Turner, is feeling proud of Mind the Gap.
Every year, our Mind the Gap team is on hand in Wokingham’s secondary schools to greet and support the new Year 7 students. Who would have thought, when we started Mind the Gap seven years ago, that we would reach this point? We’ve now walked the journey from primary to secondary school with every student in Wokingham town, and now kids who are in year 10, 11 and sixth form are coming back to help run the project!
Once again, I really loved spending those important first few days of term with the Year 7s. There have been tears, fears and triumphs as well as sunshine and smiles, and I can’t think of a better way to have spent my week.
The first thing I saw as I got out of my car on day one was a mum and daughter having a tear-filled hug, before the girl wiped away her tears and bravely walked towards the school gate. It reminded me what an emotional wrench this time can be for both parents and children. That’s why we carry on doing Mind the Gap – to be there, when family and friends can’t be there. To bring love, care and reassurance.
“I saw a mum and daughter having a tear-filled hug… What an emotional wrench this time can be.”
It was a joy to see the recognition on the faces of many youngsters as they saw me and the team. We met them last term at their primary schools, so they feel able to come up to us. “I know you – you came to our school!” “You were right, the canteen food is great!” “I’ve made new friends like you said.” Or, “Can you help me?” “It’s been tough.” “I want to go home.”
I was proud to see that many of the kids had taken to heart the words we shared at their induction days about being kind to others and being determined that no-one would be left on their own. So many times I saw those alone being scooped up by other year 7s who were thinking about others’ feelings and were prepared to go the extra mile.
As we hung around, older students came to chat with us about how we’d helped them years ago when they were new. “Can we help?” they asked. They often went out of their way to take Year 7s to their lessons or just ask if they were okay. This is what teenagers are really capable of, I thought.
“This is what teenagers are really capable of.”
We chatted to several youngsters who were in tears on day one. They needed a kind word and the encouragement to face their fears about making new friends. By the end of the week they were blooming, and took joy in telling me that they were doing fine now. Their teacher later told me, “Those children were able to gain more confidence with your help, and this made a huge impact on their ability to feel more at ease.”
There was a little lad I met last term at primary school, who I felt would find the transition to a bigger school difficult. He seemed young, and reliant on the support of his teacher and the friends who knew him well. We kept an eye out for him in his first week at his new school, and spotted him being the last person still out after the bell had gone. It was great to know his name and be able to accompany him to his class. His teachers were aware and working on getting him the extra help that he’ll need at school, but it was useful to feed in our understanding of the situation.
In partnership with schools, this is what Mind the Gap can do really well. We have the time to keep an eye out for the children who need a little more support; to pick them up amongst a big crowd, make sure they are cared for and steered in the right direction.
“The whole transition process was very smooth with the help of Soulscape!” – Holt School teacher
By lunchtime on Friday, it was clear to see that our job was done. The schools we work with are amazing and we knew we were leaving Year 7 in safe hands.
Now we’re off to start work on some other exciting Soulscape projects for this term, but secretly I always miss Mind the Gap when it’s over, as it’s a brilliant time of getting to know these young people from Year 6 and seeing them grow.