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After a long Covid-enforced break, our wide array of Senior School lunchtime and afterschool clubs and societies have been surging back to life this term, offering a welcome forum to reconnect, share hobbies and have fun!

With over 100 choices available, from the popular long-running clubs, such as Duke of Edinburgh Award and Combined Cadet Force (CCF), to niche start-ups, creative outlets, sporting endeavours and more, pupils have an abundance of options to discover new interests outside of their studies and build friendships across the School.

Ali Brunner, Director of Co-Curricular, says: “Never has there been a more important time for pupils to engage with our co-curricular programme. A vast array of opportunities has been instrumental in an upsurge of social reintegration where younger and older pupils have intermingled and been made to feel equally welcome. Hidden talents have been unleashed, new friendships have been forged and a chance to unwind in a more relaxed setting with both staff and peers has provided a much-needed refreshing outlet and restorative benefits after the relative isolation of lockdown.”

The wide programme of activities is designed to suit all tastes, but we are always keen to hear fresh ideas from the pupils themselves. New pupil-initiated clubs include the Dungeons and Dragons society, created by Ryan in Y9 and Sign Language club that was started by Amber in Y8.

The newly founded Anime society, created by Bokang in Y12, has built a healthy membership of pupils who share a love of the Japanese animation, meeting weekly to watch and discuss episodes and take part in related activities, including talks from fellow pupils on subjects that inspire them. Bokang explains: “For some, Anime offers an opportunity to appreciate life values such as diligence and tenacity. For others, it may serve as a source of companionship or motivation. I think many of our members find the club to be a safe room, where they can take a break from issues in the 3D world and immerse themselves in a paradise where anything may happen.”

Michalis, Henry and Hugh in Y7, who joined Highgate this year from different schools, soon discovered their common love of Warhammer and decided to start a lunchtime club to share their hobby with others around the School.  “When we first came to Highgate, we were delighted to find that there were other people who shared the same hobby as us. It was what brought us together in the first place and has made us such good friends. It’s been a great way to meet new like-minded people and have fun together!”

Sporting options remain a popular choice across the school, including Basketball, Cross Country, Fives, Hockey, Yoga, Street and Commercial Dance and Spinning, as well as creative outlets such as Chinese Singing, Calligraphy, Fashion Illustration, Gardening Club, Digital Photography and Cross Stitching. For others, the likes of Programming Club, VEX Robotics, Investment Club or Meteorological Society ignite their interest.

Learning new skills is a great way to stretch the teenage brain, and benefits can range from enhancing pupils’ creativity as well as being a fun and rewarding outlet. Staff across the School are assigned to clubs to support pupils in their activities, offering a mutually beneficial context to develop different relationships outside of the classroom setting.

Our well-loved Chemistry teacher, Dr Szydlo, who runs a number of societies, including Beekeeping, AutoSoc and Chemistry Experiments Club, explains the value of these co-curricular activities: Societies are a wonderful way to make new friends and to develop an interest in a field of culture/knowledge/sport/hobby, without the pressure of examinations and homework. In all the societies which I run, I try to cultivate a culture of mutual friendship and respect. It is imperative that the children feel very much at ease with me and with themselves.”

Kemi Omijeh, our new Director of Pupil Wellbeing, highlights some of the benefits: “It provides pupils with an interest which can create a purpose and a passion. It can create a feeling of fulfilment and achievement which improves pupils’ confidence and self-esteem. It can create a sense of belonging being part of a specific community, which can help pupils feel connected and supported.”

Elsewhere on the programme of activities are societies where pupils can develop their social responsibility and have a say in issues that matter to them. As an example, during Black History Month, the African Caribbean Cultural Affinity Group hosted a lunchtime talk about the Anglo-Ashanti Wars. For COP26, the Masaryk Society met to explore the political solutions to climate change. FemSoc, with mixed gender membership, recently led assemblies to mark International Men’s Day, highlighting positive role models and raising awareness of men’s wellbeing. Our Environment Committee is currently leading a campaign to promote a sustainable Christmas, including festive upcycling of Christmas jumpers.

Ali Brunner concludes: “We want pupils to form happy co-curricular memories, which will stay with them once they have left school. And yet, we are not complacent; there is always more we can do to persuade even the most reluctant to have optimum engagement in this vital area of life at Highgate. Meanwhile, essentially, co-curricular is back!