Stilt-walking to success – Shana’s Story

  • Shana was a Year 6 student, who was severely lacking in confidence, often unable to even maintain eye contact
  • Our Link Workers work directly with the young people on our programme, as well as their teachers, families, and other partner organisations, to provide a joined-up system of support
  • Here, her Link Worker, Seema, tells us how she put together a personalised support plan to help build confidence, encourage positive social behaviour and improve in academics

“When I first met Shana she was incredibly shy, unable to even maintain eye contact with me. She would almost always whisper and appear timid in group settings. It was apparent that Shana would only speak to her peers when she had to, usually keeping to herself or playing with her younger sibling in the playground.

Shana had been identified for the West London Zone programme using a combination of teacher insights as well as a Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire – one of the tools we use to identify at-risk children and young people, helping to determine who might be struggling with their social and emotional needs. West London Zone’s vision is to reach young people at the tipping point of need, and as a Link Worker I am there to support; navigating the challenges they face alongside them, acting as their mentor and advocate – a trusted adult. 

With increased self-esteem comes improved SATs

With this in mind, I met with Shana to start forming a strong relationship. I had already spoken with her mum, who was adamant that my focus should be on class support, in particular English and maths as the SATs were fast approaching. But I needed to get to know Shana herself. This would allow me to create a bespoke programme for her, mapping out the ways in which my support would be most beneficial to her.

For example, while taking on board the need for academic support, I soon realised that I needed to pay close attention to her lack of confidence; I knew there would be a link between academic attainment and self-esteem. I immediately initiated some group activities and one-to-one sessions, to remind Shana that she was in a safe space, where she could express her thoughts and feelings without fear of being judged. 

Seema built a trusted relationship with Shana and her mother

Linking to a love of learning

Following on from this, I turned my attention to building some in-class support, with a particular focus on English. A discussion with Shana’s class teacher highlighted some areas to be developed, namely her sentence structure and her understanding of text in chronological order. 

I joined Shana for an hour every Thursday for this one-to-one in-class support, and I soon noticed small improvements. Shana began putting up her hand to share her answers. She would hold a conversation and explain the plot of the story or make predictions on what she thought would happen next. Her writing was improving and making much more sense, and Shana ultimately went on to score very well in English on her SATs. These improvements were in part because of this joined-up support, with united adults all supporting Shana to achieve her very best.

Circus skills can benefit the classroom

In the meantime,  I invited Shana to join the And Circus sessions after school. This local charity – and one of our Delivery Partners – offers circus training to develop not only physical but also creative and social-emotional skills. It was a good fit for my personalised programme for Shana, with the aim of boosting her self-confidence and helping her to make new friends and learn new skills. It was rather a rocky road to convince her mum to let her come to the sessions, however, because And Circus was not directly targeting the academic support that mum had been very keen on. Once I explained the many benefits for Shana – and how it would link to her academic success – I was able to convince mum to allow Shana to attend.

And Circus develops not only physical but also creative and social-emotional skills

However, despite the challenges, Shana impressed herself with her own skills. She was able to pick everything up quite quickly, and found the sessions engaging, often wishing they could last longer. 

“I had so much fun learning the new skills and my favourite thing was learning how to walk on stilts.” Shana

Our work affects more than the students

We had a big showcase performance at the end for all parents to come and see their children. It was evident that Shana, along with a few others, stood out the most for their bravery and confidence during the show. Shana’s mum attended and spent the whole event beaming from ear to ear. She was holding her phone and recording Shana; when another parent pointed out how talented Shana was, her mum was overcome with pride and emotion and said, ‘that’s my daughter’. 

Seeing the impact that the West London Zone programme was having not only on Shana but her relationship with her mum was a highlight, as was mum’s growing realisation that academics were only one aspect of a positive school experience. 

Climbing to the top

Shana was also invited to join a rock climbing trip during half term. This was an activity that Shana had not done before, so both mum and daughter were very cautious. After some reassurance, mum sent Shana with her blessing and again, Shana surprised herself with how much she enjoyed this activity and being out of her comfort zone. She displayed such confidence and resilience, not stopping until she reached the top of the wall. Shana, despite all her nerves and fears, climbed up the most difficult wall with ease. I was able to show some photos to her mum, who said it was amazing to see Shana so happy.

“I felt so proud of myself, when I reached the top. At one point, it felt like I was upside down!” Shana

A trusted relationship

It was great to see the progress Shana made – academically as well as socially and emotionally – not to mention the impact the programme was having on her mum. It is fair to say Shana’s story will not end here; she will be able to take away these newfound skills and I have confidence that she will go far. As Link Workers, we wear many hats – mentor, champion, facilitator, a trusted adult – all while joining up the support on offer that the young person and their family may not know about. It is our duty to make sure the young people we work with understand that there are no limitations in the greatness they can achieve.”

*Name changed and images unrelated

together, every child and young person can flourish.