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Inspiring Girls Against the Odds

Nobody could have foreseen what 2020 had in store for us when we returned to school in January. It has been a year of ups, downs, challenges and opportunities. As we approach the festive holidays, it’s a poignant time to reflect on how our staff, pupils and parents have navigated these uncertain times, and I do so with great pride.

From March, we were plunged into lockdown and like all schools and educational institutions across the world, faced a huge hurdle moving all our activities online which we did via G Suite for Education. Our main priority was to pull together as a team of staff and pupils to deliver our ‘new normal’, putting the wellbeing of our girls at the centre of all our learning activities. Throughout this year more than ever, it has been imperative to work together to ensure our sense of community remained strong as we moved through the different stages of this global pandemic.

To that end, we launched the #StMargaretstogether initiative, with the first action being to send a packet of sunflower seeds to every pupil. It was our hope with this simple gesture, that our girls could find satisfaction and comfort in watching something beautiful grow, in such an unsettling time.

Communication has been paramount, and through our weekly newsletters and social media we continued this initiative with Wellbeing Wednesdays, Explore the World Days, Environmental Days and virtual music concerts. We created a sense of inclusion, a sense of community and most importantly, a sense of fun. Our pupils took part in a whole host of other activities including Meg’s Menus, a series of cooking programmes produced by staff and pupils, and in June we held a virtual sports day. We even recruited the help of Scottish sports women who provided us with inspirational messages via video link: Olympic swimmer Hannah Miley; ex-Scotland hockey team captain Sam Judge were just two of the women who contributed. Throughout the summer term our sixth year pupils embarked on a bespoke programme of online courses tailored to reflect their interests and needs as they prepared to leave school.

When school re-opened in August there was great joy in being reunited back together in person. The school estate has been temporarily extended to include 3-5 Albyn Place; this has supported social distancing and the all-important enhanced hygiene routines. Over the summer holiday a new WiFi system was installed throughout the school and we made a sizable investment to supply all pupils from 4 Junior upwards with a Chromebook to ensure that learning can continue in all eventualities. One way systems and the presence of additional cleaners throughout the school day became the norm once the new session was underway.

Of course, it has it has taken a lot of planning and hard work to adapt to current circumstances. Creativity has been key as we have adapted school events to adhere to restrictions, carrying out virtual assemblies, virtual parents’ evenings and swapping letters in our prefect buddy scheme instead of meeting in person. We have participated in a range of festivals for literacy, science, languages and art, and we have even carried out work experience with a local nursing home where senior pupils have conducted video calls with residents, a most enriching and uplifting experience for young and old alike.

Life St Margaret’s is always punctuated by special events, and this autumn term has most certainly been no exception, despite the more restricted circumstances in which we have been working. We have simply transported our “live” activities to a virtual stage, which has allowed us, as a whole school community, to celebrate Harvest, Remembrance Day, St Margaret’s Day, Black History Month, and a Barnardo’s Kidsmas Christmas concert where we were the only school in Scotland to be involved. A virtual art exhibition allowed our budding designers to appreciate the work of British fashion designer Mary Quant; the community spirit was once more in evidence as we exceeded our target of walking, collectively, a million steps per day in the month of November: this Movember Millions initiative enhanced physical and mental wellbeing through the act of our daily walks and raised £800 for Mental Health Aberdeen and Plan International. We were excited to host our first Inspirational Women Virtual Event by webinar, where Professor Olivette Otele, the UK’s first black female Professor of History, was our guest speaker.

So yes, it has been a challenging year, but one with some incredibly positive outcomes: we’ve developed confidence and expertise in our digital skills; we’ve learnt how to be adaptable and agile and the strength of our school family has been re-affirmed. 2021 will no doubt bring new challenges and we remain committed to supporting our girls every step of the way as they progress on their journey towards realising their dreams and ambitions for the future.

Miss Anna Tomlinson, Head, St Margaret’s School for Girls

See our P&J coverage here (18/12/2020): https://bit.ly/2J9MsT9

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