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Newcastle United Foundation and military veterans help pupils overcome COVID-19 stress

Military veterans with first-hand experience of dealing with high-stress situations are working with Newcastle United Foundation in North East schools to deliver resilience work for children emerging from lockdown and coronavirus-related trauma.

Many schoolchildren have been challenged to cope with the impact of COVID-19, including the grief of losing loved ones, strict limits on their freedoms and severe anxieties about how the virus might affect their lives.

Staff at Newcastle United Foundation – the official charity arm of Newcastle United – have continued to work with children of key workers still attending school throughout the lockdown period.

Now, the charity’s Learning and Skills team will be helping youngsters develop resilience, empathy, self-awareness, communication and teamwork skills inspired by Commando Joe’s ex-military personnel.

Commando Joe’s – a company that places former soldiers in schools across the UK to teach character building – has been inundated with inquiries from schools during lockdown and how to give students support with their mental health.

Mike Hamilton OBE, an ex-Commando and bomb disposal expert who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, founded Commando Joe’s in 2009 with his team now working in hundreds of schools across the UK, providing team-building and character work using heroes and heroines as inspiration.

Newcastle United Foundation staff began delivering the Commando Joe’s programme in 2019 and now work in 35 North East schools where pupils enjoy a new way of learning through playground-based missions to enrich their classroom curriculum.

Mike said: “Being ex-military, our instructors have served our country in some extremely difficult and life-threatening situations.

“They have that remarkable ability to stay calm under pressure, train a group of people from all walks of life in a short space of time and build a team ethos like no other organisation could.

“When it comes to this current crisis, we can be there to help pick pupils back up and rebuild their self-confidence and mental resilience.

“Children might seem to be coping ok on the surface with the lockdown and being out of school – but we are hearing from a lot of worried teachers, headteachers and parents about the trauma and stress they are displaying – asking questions like are their pets going to die, is the world going to end.

“Many vulnerable children in schools we work with are having a particularly difficult time being locked down at home – others have experienced loss of loved ones or trauma from parents being ill.

“Our team have faced some of the most dangerous and stressful situations in the world – so we know how to help children cope and stay calm with whatever life throws at them.”

The Commando Joe’s team trained Newcastle United Foundation staff to focus on building character and resilience in their support for pupils, parents and teachers, as well as boosting mental wellbeing and role-modelling outstanding behaviours to schools and the wider community.

Liam Atkin, Newcastle United Foundation Senior Primary Schools Coordinator, said: “It has been an incredibly challenging time for so many North East families and our team have seen first-hand in schools how children’s lives are affected by COVID-19.

“Many young people have a lot of anxieties and questions surrounding coronavirus which are being made worse by their limited opportunities to play with friends or see family members like they usually would.

“Our work in schools with Commando Joe’s equips pupils with ways to help deal with their concerns and how to adjust to the ‘new normal’ in a post-coronavirus world. We are determined that this generation will not be left behind and that they will inspire their peers in years to come with their resilience and strength of character.”

For more information on Newcastle United Foundation’s School Programmes bringing the curriculum to life for pupils aged four to 18 through Commando Joe’s, PE, PSHE, literacy and numeracy

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