The COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge disruption to the education system throughout the UK. Students are not only worried about staying up to date with the curriculum, they are also concerned about being isolated from their friends in the longer term, owing to social distancing rules and classroom bubbles.
Set against the wider backdrop of deteriorating mental health in children owing to the pandemic, we knew that it was critical for us to adapt our workshops to reach the most vulnerable students in schools.
PILOTING A NEW FORMAT
With this in mind, we ran our creative:explorers project with students with special education needs (SEN students) at John F Kennedy Special School in Newham during November and December 2020. With in classroom support from the staff, we delivered a series of visual art and music workshops via our online delivery mechanism, Create Live!.
The workshops, which were led by our professional artist Chloe Cooper and musician Mike Poyser, used art and music to explore emotions through colours. They enabled the children to explore their creativity and self-expression, while building social skills, digital skills and self-esteem, enhancing their wellbeing.
Our standard Create Live! format involves individual participants joining each workshop from their own space. For this project, however, three groups of SEN students joined from separate classrooms, in their bubbles, using Create Live! to connect safely and digitally. This was a first for Create, and it posed an interesting challenge.
Each room had its own computer screen and webcam, which allowed the students to see the workshop facilitators and the other classrooms. The staff at the school acted as intermediaries, supporting the children in their workshop tasks and muting or unmuting the microphone when needed.
“I structured the sessions so there were lots of little tasks to do, like jamming along to some drums, writing chants, brainstorming ideas, and so on,” explained Mike. “We gave the students space and time to be creative in their rooms with limited input from us at times and also spent time listening to each class’s ideas.”
“IT CAN’T BE OVER-EMPHASISED HOW BIG A DIFFERENCE IT IS”
“Working in a classroom rather than on individual screens is a big difference and it can’t be over-emphasised how big a difference it is,” said Mike. “Running this session was a totally alien experience at first. Talking to classes from my house and being unable to get much instant feedback felt odd. But we all settled into ways of making it work. The support staff were absolutely brilliant, and we relied heavily on them to help implement our ideas.”
The possibility of seeing their friends while creating music and art together had a positive impact on the children.
“I particularly enjoyed watching the students working together during the music sessions and drawing their favourite things during the art workshops,” said staff member Zoe. “These workshops helped the students to develop increased communication skills by exploring new ways to interact with their peers. They also got the chance to gain greater knowledge of their feelings and how to express them, while developing the confidence to share their ideas. And those who are non-verbal could show their emotions in a much deeper way.”
“These workshops helped the students to develop increased communication skills by exploring new ways to interact with their peers.”Zoe, staff member at John F Kennedy Special School
Their joy was palpable on the sharing day which, owing to a new lockdown announcement in mid-December, unexpectedly became the final day and its biggest highlight. This session was like a mini party. The students danced to the songs they had created while holding their artwork up to the webcam for all to see. As one child enthused, “I enjoyed singing with my friends and sang on my own in front of the whole group.”
“The final sharing offered the participants a great opportunity to revisit what they’d worked on and bring it back to life – there was lots of dancing and smiling faces!” said our Project Manager, Hannah.
THINKING ON OUR FEET
The volatility and unpredictability of the pandemic has pushed us to think on our feet and change our approach at a moment’s notice.
We are delighted with the success of this creative:explorers project and how the workshops enabled SEN students to connect with their friends, express themselves and feel joyful at such a difficult time.
The volatility and unpredictability of the pandemic has pushed us to think on our feet and change our approach at a moment’s notice, working closely with our partners to find solutions that work for them and – most importantly – our participants. It isn’t always easy, but we have been relishing this challenge!
Since the launch of Create Live! in April 2020, we have remained committed to finding new ways to run our workshops safely and effectively so we can continue to reach our participants when they need us the most. We have already run more than 620 workshops and are excited to see where Create Live! takes us next…