Teens StressLess at Nene Park Academy

The StressLess Champions group at Nene Park Academy with teacher Mrs Lawrence (and Elisa at the back)

The StressLess Champions group at Nene Park Academy with teacher Mrs Lawrence (and Elisa at the back)

The StressLess project started in the school at the beginning of the academic year as a part of a whole school intervention package to Nene Park Academy. Students’ attainment and progression to FE and HE was suffering as a result of the pressures of exams and a lack of resilience.  Often young people do not believe they can cope with study at university or college due to how exam stress and educational pressures affect them at secondary school. The aim of StressLess is to teach resilience to young people – it gives them the tools to calm themselves down and develop strategies which will enable them to cope personally and academically. The project is now embedded and managed within the school by the StressLess ambassadors who have a progression plan as they move on from the school.

The project was launched at an assembly on mental health and a selection of year 12 students applied to be part. We now have 22 mental health ambassadors in Nene Park Academy.

The students meet every Thursday night after school. They started off as a disparate group of students but have quickly gelled through their shared aim. They are now a formidable team. A familiar theme throughout the student voice was the ability to help others. “Being able to create awareness of mental health through teaching others, making a difference through coming together as a team to make lives better” is just one of these comments.

During the sessions students have completed the Take Five Challenge created by CPSL Mind. They have also started Mental Health First Aid training created by MHFA.

BBC cameraman films students taking a 'stressors quiz'

BBC cameraman films students taking a 'stressors quiz'

The ambassadors have planned, resourced and delivered mental health sessions for their peers in the sixth form - the whole of Year 12 and 13 have benefitted from these sessions. Ofsted attended one of these sessions and gave them an outstanding judgement.  Apart from the obvious mental health benefits, ambassadors have been able to develop oracy and presentation skills, as well as build up their own self-confidence.

The students have visited the Peterborough Central Library as a part of their research and learning. At the Library they met the manager and looked at provision within the community through the Shelf Help Project.  This is where doctors can “prescribe” self-help books to patients and they are able to borrow them free from the library.  The books are endorsed by mental health experts and are suitable for young children through to adults.  The students have benefitted here from the literacy and research skills this visit entailed.

The team also went to a theatre production called Live Before You Die which explored male mental health, Bi-Polar and suicide.  Students have been building up their cultural capital with events like this.

What does the future hold?

The team met with the Head to discuss their project and suggest ways the school can support them. Their future ideas include a calm space in school which is stocked with self-help books and manned by an ambassador, a school mental health blog, and mini films created to help students and parents at the school. They also want to be able to spread their message to other schools.

Nene Park Academy's Mrs Lawrence and the StressLess Champions 

Nene Park Academy's Mrs Lawrence and the StressLess Champions 

The mental health ambassadors want to improve their delivery style in the sessions they lead for other pupils and parents in the future. We have arranged for a training session for them on this where they will learn about holding an audience and performing effectively.

The students have also attended a session on mindfulness and meditation, when a teacher came to the school. What they learnt about these techniques they will be able to pass on to others, as well as use for themselves.

Parent sessions are also planned, where the students will talk with parents and carers to help them support their teenager as they go through the stresses of school, exams and university. Further sessions are planned roll out the program to the lower school over the coming months.

The students have put in successful bids to CPSL Mind, and gained financial support from the mental health charity to create a chill-out zone in school that all students can access, with support and resources on offer. 

Some of these resources will be created by the students themselves who will tap into their specific subject interests which they wish to study at university or college. For instance, those creating the films might go on and study film in higher education; those studying Psychology will use their research to create support literature.

These are a couple of examples of how the students are boosting their super-curricular learning which will give them strong applications for university.

Cultural capital is being built up by the students when they have been attending meditation classes and theatre trips. Oracy and presentation skills are also being developed, helping build their self-confidence and resilience when it comes to applying for university and being interviewed.

For many involved, this area has become one they wish to pursue after school. “I want to be a midwife and know if anyone comes in with a mental health issue, I know I can help them as much as I can”. And “I would like to continue this mental health training as my dream is to become a nurse. I believe this would make a positive impact on others.”