Self-expression: finding your voice

I have been really proud this week to see our Academy’s vision – “to inspire and enable young people to make a positive difference” – manifesting in our students’ achievements.

We often talk about the education we provide at Churchill helping our students to make a positive difference to themselves, to our Academy community, and to the wider world around them. This week, I have seen this in three wonderful examples of our students building their confidence, pushing themselves out of their comfort zone, and finding a way to express themselves – finding their voice – through the opportunities offered at Churchill.

Dance Live!

On Wednesday night, our dancers and their support crew were in Portsmouth for the national finals of Dance Live! Having won the semi-finals, we knew our ensemble would now be up against the very best in the country. Since that triumph, they had listened carefully to the feedback and honed their performance to perfection, synchronising their movement to the huge video display screen behind them. I was following – along with hundreds of others – the Instagram Story updates as they rehearsed and prepared in the prestigious Guildhall auditorium. And then…it all went quiet. Until an email from Mr Buckley confirmed that their incredible performance had won them second place – and top state school in the finals! This amazing achievement was accompanied by a healthy £500 prize for Team Performing Arts.

Video of the semi-final performance

We know, from long experience, that the arts are essential for enabling students to find a way to express themselves. Whether it be through dance, or drama, or music, or painting, or sculpture, or installations, or film, we do all we can to help our students give expression to their ideas. To see that come together, in such a triumphant way as this, is breath-taking. I am so proud of the students, and the staff, who helped put this together.

Poetry Competition

Also this week was the final of the inter-house poetry competition. In this event, our students found their voices through the language and layout of poetic forms, expressing themselves using the rhythms, rhymes and interplay of words. The themes of this year’s competition were social media, and Churchill Academy & Sixth Form, and our students found new and unusual angles on both subjects. You can read more on our website, but here is the winning poem:

You Only Get One Life
By Melissa Otero-Zambrzycka

Open the app, shut the door,
Time after time, coming back for more,
Another swipe, another scroll,
Another notification on the phone,
A nagging need to know every hit,
Every detail, every bit,
“What are they saying?”
“What do they think?”

The need to feel that acceptance,
From a group of strangers, you don’t even know,
The feeling when that comment,
Makes you hit an all time low,
The toxicity of the fact,
“They don’t care how you feel,”
Putting your heart out there is a gamble,
Yet you chose to spin that wheel.

And so you isolate, compensate,
For people you’ll never meet again,
When in reality, waiting outside that door,
Is only the truest friends,
But your eyes cannot leave that screen,
It’s a vortex you cannot reverse,
You cannot leave, even if you plead,
And every hateful comment hurts,

But you’re stuck in this matrix,
And “Who cares, you’re all alone,”
But it only takes one move to escape it all,
Go on, turn off your phone.

Get out into the real world,
Write your own story in colourful ink,
You’ve only got one life,
“Who cares what people think?”

I just love what Melissa has done with her poem here. The use of the “who cares what people think” refrain at the beginning and the end, with the twist in meaning from the changed context, helps to reinforce the message of the poem: that it’s all about perception. Your own attitude towards things is what really matters – not what other people think. I think it’s fantastic that our students have these opportunities to hone their craft and get their words out into the world in this way.

The Gabblers Club

On Monday, I returned to the Bristol Hotel for the finals of the Gabblers Club competition for the first time since the COVID pandemic. Gabblers is a long-standing tradition across Bristol schools, where Sixth Form students meet together to practise the art of after-dinner speaking. There were twenty competitors from state and independent schools, with our entrant – Gemma Partridge – dazzling the audience with her witty and thought-provoking speech on the topic of “Soaps.” Gemma – who won the Raymond Hayter Song Prize in the Churchill Young Musician of the Year competition in January, and was part of the crew for Dance Live! – is a shining example of a student who has made the most of the opportunities offered to her, and thrived as a result.

It makes me so proud to see our students achieving such highs across this range of disciplines – with the confidence to express themselves. This is exactly the positive difference our vision statement talks about.

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