In assembly this week, Mrs Watson spoke about Youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman, and her mission to encourage young people to find their voice. At the start of her presentation, Mrs Watson introduced us to the phrase, ‘You do You’, and echoed Gorman’s message: while you may feel that everything has been said before, it hasn’t been said by you – an idea that is both liberating and empowering.
At a time when many are feeling isolated, voiceless, both literally and metaphorically muted, finding ways to express feelings and emotions has never been more vital. At Brighton Girls, we are keen to do everything we can to ensure that voices can be heard. I enjoyed meeting the Year 11 prefects this week and gathering their thoughts on how we can increase student engagement, particularly in some of the important discussions we are having around equality and diversity. Two student surveys (one at school level, the other GDST-wide and part of the Undivided Charter for Action) have given students an opportunity to have their say. It’s a great start, but we now need to up the levels of participation in discussions and focus groups as we start to translate these thoughts into action and seek to bring about change.
A survey is just one way to capture feelings; self-expression can, of course, take many forms. What is important is that we each find our own channel, and finding the right one can make a huge difference to our wellbeing. Indeed, this idea is recognised in the theme of Children’s Mental Health Week, which took place this week. This year’s theme, ‘Express Yourself’, is about “finding creative ways in which to share your thoughts, ideas and feelings… whether that’s through photography, through art, through drama, through music or poetry – it’s finding those things that makes you feel good about yourself”.
I am incredibly proud of the opportunities for self-expression we are continuing to provide for our students, even during these testing times. Here is a snap-shot of what’s currently on offer at Brighton Girls, above and beyond the regular curriculum: Virtual Running Club is off to a great start; the Year 10s have been applying to be trained-up for the role of Peer Supporter; we’ve had House cooking and House photography. Then, there are some exciting opportunities stemming from our new partnerships in Brighton & Hove: we will soon launch our Café Enterprise Scheme, giving budding entrepreneurs across the school the opportunity to work with ‘Bird & Blend’ on a new blend of Brighton Girls tea; many have signed up to workshops with the British and Irish Modern Music Institute over half term and will enjoy sessions in song-writing and music production for game. Stretching beyond all these, there are the ever-expanding GDST-wide events: we’re all involved in the #GetActive initiative and, this week students from Year 11 and 12 had the chance to attend the Women in Politics Conference led by our sister-school, Oxford High, and others attended an Modern Foreign Languages Conference. On the 26th February, all Sixth Formers across the GDST are invited to the February Book Club to listen to author, Juno Dawson, in support of LGBT+ History month. And, finally, returning to Mrs Watson’s assembly on Amanda Gorman, the English Department has encouraged all students to enter their work for the GDST Laurie Magnus Poetry Prize.
Whatever the mode of expression, it’s about finding ways to acknowledge emotions and communicate them, in a way that is unfettered. This is the GDST spirit – where girls learn without limits. We want to instil in our students the confidence to express themselves and provide them with the channels through which to do this. It’s about doing everything we can to remove obstacles and impediments, to encourage them to “unmute” in whatever way they feel comfortable.
As an example of what can be achieved when an individual finds their voice, Mrs Watson quoted Ziauddin Yousafza, the father of Malala Yousafzai. As Malala’s father realised, when supporting young people to find their place in the world, it isn’t always about what we do, it’s perhaps more about what we don’t do. As Ziauddin Yousafza explains in his autobiography, ‘Let Her Fly’, when asked what role he played in supporting and encouraging such a daughter, his answer is this:
“Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I didn’t do. I didn’t clip her wings”.