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Is the sky still blue?

Mike Staples, Director of Activities and Sport, Dover Campus
20 October 2020

UN night student performance

With the restrictions on movement still in place as a result the global pandemic, and the resultant impact on personal wellness added to the list of stresses that test us all daily, it is perhaps not surprising that our community have been looking to the College to support their children with opportunities for the continued development of physical and mental wellbeing, including connection and community. 

At UWCSEA Dover, the Activities Programme in Term 1 has continued to play a big part in maintaining that healthy balance for many. In a typical school year, 96% of Dover students will choose to participate in the programme at lunchtime, before or after school or even on the weekend. This year, the start of the activities programme was a welcome opportunity for our students to re-engage in passions, pastimes and pursuits that were severely curtailed outside school as the COVID safety requirements limited most options, in some cases ceasing them altogether. With the usual connectedness that our children experience with friends and loved ones restricted to a limited ‘pod’ of the ‘usual suspects’ and an uncharacteristically cold and rainy September following the news of cancellation of so many anticipated Arts and sports events on the annual calendar, many in the community could have been forgiven for wondering “Is the sky still blue?” by the time Activity sign-up opened for Season 1.

Statistics alone can partially answer that question: yes! Activity participation numbers paint a rosier picture for our children - one that is perhaps not so visible to parents and carers who are not able to come onto campus and therefore have limited opportunities to see their children in action. On Dover Campus, there were 5,800 week-day spaces offered across the full breadth of the Activities Programme, which includes the extensive Instrumental Teaching Programme (ITP) and our bespoke Home Languages Programme (HLP). A further 550 opportunities were offered in the evenings and on weekends through our Community Activities programme. 

The average student at Dover takes part in 2.3 activities a week for 3.8 hours. Many activity groups continue to run with the same capacity as in pre-COVID times. These include music groups and the ITP which collectively account for 954 places each week; non-selective and representative sport and fitness options add an additional 2,545 places; our 11 HLP languages offer 271 students a place; student leadership groups, including MUN, Initiative for Peace and student societies, cater to 521 students; environmental initiatives engage 197 students, and a further 1,163 places are filled in our somewhat catch-all category of ‘enrichment’ which is a diverse collection of interests ranging from BioChem or Law Society for High School students to Debate and Coding which are offered in different ways across the school sections.

Looking past the statistics there are Activities that continued to see increased enrolment; perhaps inspired by the state of world politics, greater numbers signed up for student leadership groups that provoke discussion on social, political and global issues. Initiative for Peace, MedSoc and Epiphany Arts saw consistent membership, while the long running Debate and Model United Nations (MUN) activities were in high demand. In August, 123 students trialled for the Dover Campus Debate Teams inspired by the growing Debate calendar and team success in local competition. Undeterred by the cancellation of international conferences, new student leadership and virtual conferences have buoyed MUN numbers to all-time high levels of participation.

While these Activities are designed to stretch minds, the latin phrase ‘mens sana in corpore sanum’, ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’, gives a nod to the equal importance the Romans put on the physical as part of our all round wellness. Correspondingly this year’s investment in leadership and facilities that promote physical wellness could not have been more fortunate or timely. An extended, refurbished and re equipped Fitness Centre coupled with the recent addition of an Exercise, Strength & Conditioning Coordinator, has given us the expertise and the capacity to meet the growing fitness and performance needs of the wider Dover Community. With two old fitness rooms miraculously expanded into four inviting spaces, all decked out with ‘shiny’ new cardio, weights and core strength equipment, both students and staff are able to access a menu of general exercise, strength & conditioning, performance training, injury prevention and rehabilitation programmes. When our doors can finally reopen to parents, we promise to share these ‘new toys’ with the mums and dads in our community as well!

Our Performing Arts programme has been impacted more heavily than many other areas of Activities, with group sizes reduced, voice and wind instruments restricted and larger productions curtailed in music, dance and drama. It was Frederick Nietzsche that said that “Without music, life would be a mistake” and so students have continued to find a way, with student-led productions presented in innovative ways through small-scale live performances and the online presentations of key events such as our beloved UN Night. 

In the meantime, as we wait for those bright cobalt blue South East Asian skies to return, it is worth taking a moment to recalibrate and remind ourselves of what is working. Our facilities are bursting from sunup to sundown, seven days a week with young people seeking what our UWC founder, Kurt Hahn labelled their ’grand passion’ as they seek to extend the possibilities of the ‘new normal’ we’re living in.  Everyday, our students strive towards excellence in our practice rooms, theatres and sports halls. And they forge long-lasting connections in their community that will help to sustain them through, and well beyond, these character-forming times. 

Beyond Fixtures

Gavin Dinsdale, Head of High School Activities, East Campus

Beyond Fixtures is an East Campus initiative to provide intentional opportunities for students to reflect on why they choose to participate in sport. The focus is on aspects of fitness, developing cross-sport skills through training, overcoming challenges and, of course, fun. While competitive sport will not always be available in life, and is not something everyone even wants to pursue, our goal is to take the opportunity to develop life-long habits through participation for enjoyment and health.

At UWCSEA, success is not purely based on results and broader measurements such as student participation and engagement count, and this term participation rates have been as high as in the past. However, with no team selections to make (due to the cancellation of fixtures), all students have had an opportunity to benefit from being coached as part of a team. 

Without the intensity of the results-driven rounds of fixtures and finals, coaches have been able to renew a focus on coaching the skills of the sport. No fixture list has given coaches the time to include activities that will develop core skills to support a student’s participation in sport, such as physical literacy. Beyond Fixtures has encouraged coaches to share ideas and practices that work across all sports, such as prehabilitation to prevent injuries, training to jump higher, and working with our Sports Science students to measure, collect and track data on athletes’ performance. Other examples include using expert knowledge from gymnastics to train core strength and core chain mobility in football, or applying gymnastics skills to movement on the volleyball court. 

Whilst fixtures will return and students and coaches will enjoy the excitement these bring, this period has provided an important opportunity for coaches and students to reflect on the learning, and to reframe their involvement in sport in a more holistic way.