Health Awareness Weeks

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This season we started a new pilot, under the title Health Awareness Weeks. We’re focusing on pupils from NBA 2 to 7, with the aim of contributing to pupils’ physical and mental health by stimulating their own insight and initiative. Physiotherapist Iva Lešić and mental skills teacher Marion Vijn say, “The emphasis of this new action plan is not on measurements and tests, but on the one-to-one follow-up, whereby we help and challenge each individual pupil to set their own goals.” The Health Awareness pilot receives funding from the Comenius programme for innovation in education.

It was a question from Liesbeth Koot, former head of Education and Student Welfare at Amsterdam University of the Arts, that spurred Iva Lešić into action during one of the corona lockdowns. Lešić says, “Liesbeth said, ‘If you could change the screening methods for young dance students, then what would your ultimate dream be?’ Well, I didn’t have to think long about that. I thought it would be fantastic if the results of the usual measurements and tests were to provide insight not so much to the teaching team as to the pupils themselves, and so form a starting point for stimulating their ‘self-reliance’. And something I realised straight away was that we should also focus on the pupils’ mental health, besides the physical aspects.”

Every child can grow
Lešić – who works with the Dutch National Ballet Academy as both a world dance teacher and a physiotherapist – joined forces with mental skills teacher Marion Vijn, and together they developed the plan for the Health Awareness Weeks. The main principles of their approach are to prioritise individual guidance for each pupil and to aim the project at all the pupils of NBA 2 to 7. Vijn says, “Before, we used to offer individual guidance if pupils or their parents had a question or if a problem arose. The new approach is expressly different. Now, we focus on everyone. After all, every child can set their own goals to work on, and every child can grow.” Lešić adds, “That also makes it a very low-threshold project. You don’t need specific help in order to participate. Moreover, the insights that surface during the Health Awareness Weeks are not shared with others; they’re only intended for the pupil himself/herself.”

Measurement doesn’t always lead to knowledge
Recently, Lešić and Vijn have developed various new tests and questionnaires for ‘screening’ the pupils during the Health Awareness Weeks, but they stress that ‘measurement doesn’t always lead to knowledge’. Vijn says, “For us, it’s not about the figures, but about the personal talks we hold with each pupil, after the tests are done and the questionnaires are filled in”. Lešić adds, “The human aspect takes priority. We try to stimulate the pupils to take their own responsibility, to look themselves at which goals they want to work on and find their own possible explanation for something that’s not going so well at the moment. Marion and I help them on their way, then keep an eye on them to see if they’re on the right track, but we don’t send them away with ‘homework’.”

Results achieved already
After the first edition of the Health Awareness Weeks last September, the two teachers are already seeing results. “Pupils are finding it much easier to approach us. You see them growing and taking more initiative themselves.”

The second edition will follow in March, and if it’s up to Lešić and Vijn the Health Awareness Weeks will become a fixed part of the Dutch National Ballet Academy’s curriculum. Lešić says, “We’re looking now at whether we can develop the programme further, and if so, how. Besides responding even more to pupils’ individual needs, we’d also like to organise workshops and themed meetings that could contribute to the pupils’ wellbeing.”

Potential for change
The Comenius programme, which funded the Health Awareness Weeks pilot, is an initiative by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science aimed at innovating and improving higher education in the Netherlands. The evaluation committee qualified the Dutch National Ballet Academy’s application as ‘very good’. The committee says that the project has great potential for bringing about change in the areas of ‘physical inclusivity, self-acceptance and mental resilience of dance students – not only within the academy itself, but also at other institutes’.

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