At the time of writing this article (mid-January) conversations usually turn to whether one has kept one’s New Year’s resolution though I suspect most of my pupils didn’t make any in the first place.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they hadn’t. Too often such resolutions involving doing less of something you enjoy or more of something you suspect you won’t enjoy.
I try to stay away from resolutions which encourage you to eat or drink less, for example, though I do welcome the recent media concerns regarding teenagers’ over-consumption of so-called energy drinks. I was also pleased to see Waitrose recently decide to desist from selling them to under 16s; I do wonder, however, how many teenagers frequent that particular supermarket for their fizzy drinks.
I hope other supermarket chains follow suit and ban selling drinks with such high sugar and caffeine levels to children.
I am far more in favour of those resolutions which are about doing something more or doing something differently.
I hope my pupils might have considered, for example, reading more – 12 books in a year perhaps – or working harder in mathematics or spending more time practising the piano. Being more active or “getting fit” is a common resolution but almost always leads to expensive short-lived Gym membership and being inactive is not a problem for the majority of my pupils though cries of a national obesity crisis may suggest that all our teenagers could be moving more.
It was reported last month that 38 per cent of 14-year-olds in Wales were overweight and many studies have made the link between physical fitness and academic improvement.
The New York Times reported:
"Children who are more active are better able to focus their attention, are quicker to perform simple tasks, and have better working memories and problem-solving skills than less-active children. They also perform better on standardized academic tests."
It was partly against this backdrop that I went with 14 of my pupils to our first Conwy Parkrun last Saturday and, despite the cold wind blowing off the water, it was one of the most uplifting and positive experiences of my recent life.
For those who aren’t familiar with parkruns they are organised (by enthusiastic volunteers) 5km timed runs in safe, often beautiful, parts of the country and perhaps best of all are completely free.
For those not familiar with the Conwy parkrun it’s probably one of the most beautiful of all the UK parkruns. It starts by the RSPB Nature Reserve, off the A55, from there you run towards the castle then back towards the Quay Hotel and then back to the start all along the banks of the river Conwy. It’s relatively flat and pushchair and wheelchair friendly. More importantly it’s just friendly!
Around 300 runners joined us – a mix of ages (our Head of Sixth Form brought his young daughter) a mix of, dare I say body shape, and a mix of fitness levels plus the odd dog but all incredibly supportive of each other.
Fancy dress outfits are not unusual and nor are complementary encouraging comments as you work your way around the course from the volunteer marshals to the participants (not competitors).
At the end of the run you can have your time officially recorded with a view to perhaps improving it next time; I’m determined to beat my Director of Sport.
On this first occasion it happened to be Conwy’s third anniversary as a parkrun and cameras from S4C were in attendance too as were free cakes at the finish to add to the sense of occasion. All our pupils finished and everywhere I looked I happened to see other members of staff from the school or other familiar members of the community.
It was, for an early start on a January Saturday morning, an utterly joyful experience and not just because I happen to be a keen runner but because it restored my faith in community and peoples’ commitment to improvement in addition to the pupils' sense of achievement on the minibus as we travelled home with our packed breakfasts.
I will be hoping more pupils, especially our boarders, choose to join us next week and I would encourage anyone reading this article to try the Conwy parkrun just once and take your children too; it won’t be your last!
At a time when I have to worry about my pupils and all teenagers’ wellbeing, both physical and mental, such organisations and events give me hope and restore my faith in the human spirit. When you have that who needs New Year’s resolutions to make you feel better about yourself.