Amber Flag 2020
We are very excited to announce that here at St John of God N.S. we are embarking on a new adventure. Following on from the success of the Green School Flag, Active School Flag and Digital Flag Initiatives, we are now taking on the challenge of obtaining an Amber Flag.
In 2018, Minsters Jan O’Sullivan and Kathleen Lynch jointly launched Well-Being in Primary Schools- Guidelines for Mental Health Promotion. This is the result of a joint collaboration between the Department of Education and Skills and the Health Service Executive, with the aim of promoting mental health and well-being in primary schools.
It is recognised in these guidelines that positive mental health and well-being enables young people to lead fulfilling lives. Home and family are recognised as the primary source of nurturing and support for children. However, mental health and well-being are recognised as everyone’s concern and involves the whole school community, parents/guardians and others involved in day to day school life. Positive mental health for children is part of their overall health and is inextricably linked with well-being.
In order to promote positive mental health and well-being at St John of God N.S., we have decided to take part in the Amber Flag Initiative. This involves the whole school community coming together in other to create a safe, positive and healthy attitude towards our general physical and mental health and well-being. We have been working on some great ideas during the year and will continue to nurture the wellbeing of all our pupils, staff and parents through our Amber Flag work.
In order to undertake all these activities we have formed an Amber Flag Committee. This committee is led by teacher representative Ms Flynn, who works with class reps, fellow teacher reps and SNA reps. One of our committee members, Áine has written a wonderful account of our work so far.
My Experience on the Amber Flag Committee
I first want to say that I really enjoyed my experience on the Amber Flag committee. I loved sharing my ideas and helping out. I loved planning for the events and putting out my ideas. It made me feel more confident and really helped me out. I really think the school should do this every year as a way to help the school, promote mental health and well-being and to make the school a generally happier place. This is my opinion about being on the Amber Flag committee and my experience.
The first experience I had about all of this was at our first assembly that took place at the beginning of January. Initially, I wasn’t part of the committee so I got to hear about all of the ideas with the rest of the school. The ideas were incredible. Happiness Homework on Mondays instead of written homework, the buddy bench and so much more. I was already impressed and this was only the first assembly!
On the same day at half two, my class and my sister’s class would do a wellbeing workshop. We learned that our day is usually an emotional rollercoaster and we will feel a range of different feelings. To express that, we made mind jars. Mind jars are jars full of water and glitter. When you shake the mind jar, it shows how your mind is when it has a lot of different thoughts and feelings. I thought that the mind jar was a great way of showing our mind at different times.
At the second assembly, the committee talked about the buddy bench and all of its rules. In my opinion, the buddy bench is a very smart and effective idea. It is quite simple but it works very well. If someone is feeling sad or alone, they can go to the buddy bench. If they see their friends around, they can always join in. If the person on the bench cannot find anyone to join in with, they can wait for someone to ask and then they can join in with them. If another person in said person’s class goes on the bench, they can play together and possibly
create a new friendship. In conclusion, I think that the buddy bench is a great way to make people happier and create lasting friendships.
Also during the second assembly, they introduced an award called ‘Random Acts of Kindness’. The teachers would look at pupils that they thought were being very kind just because they were brought up that way. To appreciate kindness, at every assembly we gave the deserving pupils a certificate and a homework off voucher. Everyone became kinder to each other and it made the school a better community. Everyone wants a kinder community, don’t they?
After the second assembly, I was asked by Ms. Flynn if I would like to join the Amber Flag committee. Of course I accepted because I loved the work of the committee so far and I really wanted to help out. After accepting I went to a committee meeting and discussed a lot and I mean a lot of ideas. We had ideas such as t-shirt designing and a huge disco for the whole school. I will discuss all of these ideas in depth later but we already had a lot of ideas.
To increase people’s happiness, we put up inspirational quotes around the school. If people are walking around the school and feeling a bit down, they could look at one of the quotes and it could make someone’s day a little bit brighter and that one bit better. One thing can always make a change.
Another amazing idea that was thought of was a worry box known as “Things I wish my teacher knew”. It would be used if a girl had a problem and she wanted someone to know but not directly tell the teacher. An example is if Person A was being bullied by Person B but Person A was scared to tell the teacher. Person A could write a note or letter and put it in the box. Person A doesn’t even have to write their name, just
their teacher’s name. At the end of the week, the teacher will receive all the notes from girls in their class and could discuss the problem with the entire class.
At one assembly we read a story about there is only one you. It shows that you should always be yourself because everyone else is well, everyone else. I think these kinds of stories are really good for telling people good advice and life lessons.
At another assembly, we were told a story about a girl called Chrysanthemum and how she went to school but everyone made fun of her name. This one girl kept bullying her about it. Whenever Chrysanthemum felt sad, we had to fold a tissue paper heart in half and repeat that every time. At the end, Chrysanthemum felt better but she still felt the effects. To show this more clearly, we unfolded the hearts. The hearts were still okay but they had creases and fold marks across them. This another way of showing and telling instead of just telling stories.
One assembly, each class was asked to sing or write a positive song and do a dance to it. My class wrote a song to the tune of ‘Riptide’ called ‘Bright Side’. Three girls in my class made up all the moves of the dance and the two 3rd classes played their ukuleles along to our singing. Ms. Hartrey, one of the 3rd class teachers played the piano along with our singing. The other classes also did songs and dances and they were great too. It was great seeing everyone together performing.
We did a lot of things in the workshops to promote happiness.We made leaves with positive quotes and stuck them on a tree so if someone was feeling down they could pass the tree and they could read loads of
inspiration quotes. We also coloured cardboard cutouts of ourselves and stuck them around the hall with us holding hands. It shows that our school is a great community and we are always there to help one another.
During the workshops, we were also told how to do different types of relaxing breathing. We had hot chocolate breathing, where you would smell the hot chocolate and then breathe out to cool down the hot chocolate. We made anti-bullying banners and we were going to do a protest around the school but we will have to postpone that due to the extreme circumstances we are under at the moment.
Here are the two most exciting things we did. All the other ideas I stated previously were great but these two ideas were the ones I think everyone enjoyed the most. We got to design our own t-shirts and we got to go to our first school disco!
How cool is it that we got to design our very own t-shirts? On the t-shirt you had to write a positive affirmation on it along with an inspiring illustration. What is an affirmation you may ask? Well, an affirmation is a positive or inspiring quote you say to yourself. Some examples of affirmations are ‘ I am amazing’ and ‘ I am perfect the way I am’.
When first designing the t-shirts, we got a template to design our t-shirt. This design was only our first draft and used to inspire us for when we got to actually submit our designs. Within my class, everyone had amazing ideas during the ideas period and it was great to see everyone being creative and positive. After we all finished our ideas, we finally got to do our final design. We used markers, crayons, twistables and colouring pencils. I was pretty happy with the overall result.
The last and final idea we had was a disco. It was called the ‘Heart to Heart Disco’ due to it being close to Valentine’s Day. We had many ideas for this and the whole disco turned out spectacularly. To raise money for the Pieta House, we had a donation bucket for anyone to drop in a donation. A lot of people decided to donate because everyone in our school is so kind and generous. We had a raffle for everyone that attended the disco and there were many prizes to be won. We organized a DJ to come and we had really awesome music to listen to. We also had prizes for the best dancers.
The day before the disco, we organized our duties and we decorated the school hall. We had disco lights, balloons, party games, banners and posters. Some girls on the committee were helping with the donations while other girls were giving out raffle tickets. We had disco helpers too if anybody needed any help. I think everyone was delighted and I was glad to see everyone enjoying their time.
I would like to share how this whole Amber Flag initiative helped me in school and with my mental health. Before all of this started, I found it pretty difficult to make friends and talk to other people in general. I just lacked the confidence to talk to others and share ideas. With all the effort the school put in to make our school happier, it helped me boost my confidence and be more open. All the staff in this school are extremely kind, caring, considerate and helpful. I am really lucky to be part of such an amazing school.
Before I conclude my experience, I would love to give a few suggestions on how to improve the Amber Flag so we keep our school a happy place. I think maybe for next year, we could involve more of the school within the committee. I think we should ask the whole school for suggestions because I bet we could include even more good ideas for the school. Another suggestion is that we could possibly have two assemblies a week so we could update the school more often and ask about how everyone has been doing.
One final thing I would like to do is thank a few people. I would like to thank Ms. Flynn for all the hard work and dedication she put into leading this committee and making sure that all the ideas are the best they can be. I would also like to thank Mrs. Morris for being so kind and helpful within this school. She does a great job at leading our school and you can tell how much she cares about every single pupil.
I would like to thank all the teachers for putting the time and effort to welcome kindness and mental awareness inside their classrooms. If they hadn’t been so hard-working, none of this would have been possible. I would like to thank all the committee members for helping out and sharing ideas. They are always so supportive and kind. For my last thank you, I would like to thank every single person in the school. If they weren’t putting in so much effort, all this hard work would have been for nothing.
I have overall really enjoyed my experience on the Amber Flag committee and I hope this initiative will continue for many years to come. It has been very helpful for me and many others.
We would really welcome any ideas and suggestions you may have which could be incorporated into the activities already listed. Likewise, if any parent is willing to share their skills and talents with us in terms of creative art, music, meditation, mindfulness, fitness, healthy eating, etc. please let one of the teachers know. We acknowledge and appreciate the knowledge and skills you all have which may help us create a positive mental health and well-being environment here at St John of God NS.