Mental Health

How Wellness Modules Can Transform Secondary School Education In Ireland

How Wellness Modules Can Transform Secondary School Education In Ireland

Yesterday, Boyne Valley Group were announced as the Food Partner to the Sports Institute Ireland. At the announcement, we had the privilege of chatting with Ireland 400m runner Brian Gregan both about the importance of nutrition for athletes, as well as his current day job, which is fascinating. Since 2018, Gregan has been working at the Institute of Education, the country's largest private school. He is currently the Director of Sport at the school. In conjunction with faculty of the Institute, Gregan has helped develop a pioneering approach to sport at a secondary school level in this country, which includes both physical activity as well as wellbeing modules.

"Well before I took this role, I was a Sky Sports 'Living For Sports' ambassador, and in that role, I visited at least 100 schools around the country. So that really prepared me for my current role as Director of Sport at the Institute of Education. In that job, I look after all the different sport we have. We have football, basketball, athletics, ladies GAA. I manage those, I hire the coaches and bring them in. On top of that, we have a wellness programme. I work with Fourth Years, I look after wellbeing modules,  and we cover psychology, anxiety, stress, prepping for exams, communication skills and people skills."

"Basically, we try to develop people as a full character, not just academically. We do a lot of fitness classes with them as well, de-stressing, and importantly, meditation. The students are never off their phones. They’re never disconnected from the world, so we meditate just to give them a break to switch off from social media and recharge the batteries for a little bit."

"I work with 5th and 6th years as well, and a lot of the stuff overlaps. We work on motivation, nutrition and gym programmes. So it’s a really rounded programme. It’s the biggest private school in Ireland, and we aim to have students excelling not just in the classroom but in their mental health as well." 

Gregan realised when he took the role that there's really no way to overstate exactly how much technology and social media have changed the lives of young people, even compared to his own school days.

"When I was in school, I had a Nokia 3310 and I couldn’t bring it to school because it was too heavy. No one was on the phone, no one had a headset. You might have had a CD player. If you got in an argument with someone in school or you were walking home, you could think about it ‘did I do that right, did I not do that right?’. Nowadays people are so quick to jump on social media. I was doing a talk on positive mental health last week, and I said to the students, if you post a photo on social media, and you get 99 positive comments and 1 is negative, saying you’re ugly or whatever, you’re going to focus on that one negative comment. People are much more connected now so we need an approach that’s holistic. Each student can chat to me, we have great care in the school."

"It helps that I’m pretty young. If I was a 50-year-old man, it might be a little bit different. I’m using experience that they can relate to. The first day I met them, I told them my story. I broke down what it takes to be an international athlete, and all the hard work it takes to get there. Then I’ll say I’ve run in front of 76,000 people but you’re doing your leaving cert, and the pressure is similar. They love that. They relate to that. They speak to me as a peer."

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In his time in the role, Gregan has realised the profound effect that wellness can have on young people's lives,  and the adults  they develop into.

"When I was in school, I had a guidance counsellour who I met once a year and I’d do an exam that told me what I’d do in college. Now it’s ‘let’s focus on what are your strengths’. You see companies all around the country with wellness programmes. I’m not a psychologist, I’m not a nutritionist. I have a sports science degree. I have years of experience running for Ireland and I’ve worked with different schools, so I’m using my experience. And this is all with a view towards being able to teach PE in two years time, so there’s that coming down the tracks as well."

It's an exciting time to be working in a sporting context in Irish education, with physical education becoming available as a leaving cert option from 2020.

"The details are being hashed out right now, it’s a pilot programme in a handful of school in Ireland. Come 2020 it will be more streamlined. It’s going to involve everything for fitness-based stuff to teambuilding, biology, physics, movement, so it's almost a mini-Sports Science degree basically. It’s not just sport but understanding how the body works. It’ll be a lovely course to do. I know if I was in school, I would have loved it."

Gregan is gunning for Tokyo 2020 and he spoke about the important role that the Boyne Valley Group will play for members of Team Ireland heading out to the Olympics.

"It’s a match made in heaven. Why not have an Irish supplier to the Irish team? They have so many different great products. It’s a really positive thing going forward. They’ll have packs for athletes going out to the Olympics. And for them, it’s not about Boyne Valley selling products on the back of this, it’s about makings things better for Irish athletes so that’s amazing to see."

Sport Ireland today signed a partnership agreement with Boyne Valley Group, with the Irish owned company becoming the Official Food Partner to the Sport Ireland Institute. The new deal will see Boyne Valley Group provide high quality food products from their extensive range of brands to the Sport Ireland Institute to enhance the extensive Performance Nutrition support provided to Ireland’s High Performance athletes by the Institute nutrition team. The partnership will help improve nutrition and dietary practices and enhance performance potential by Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

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