Going for Gold: Innovative Olympic school project nominated for award

An innovative schools programme looking at the past and present of the Olympic Games is going for gold as it is nominated for an award recognising imaginative projects that encourage pupils from non traditional backgrounds to enter higher education.

The ‘Olympics Day’ programme run by the South West Wales Reaching Wider with Swansea University College of Arts and Humanities has been shortlisted for a Times Higher Education Supplement Widening Participation Initiative of the Year Award 2012.

Below: Cymer Afan design their motto

Olympic visit days1The project held a series of ‘Olympic Days’ for Year 10 pupils from Cwmtawe, Birchgrove and Cymer Afan Comprehensive Schools, inviting them to experience campus life and examine how Classical culture has shaped the world today. The programme was also delivered in Welsh to Ysgol Gyfun Ystalyfera to encourage pupils to pursue subjects in Welsh in university. Heather Pudner, Partnership Manager with the lead partner Swansea University said: “We wanted to harness the enthusiasm surrounding the Olympics, to open doors to an understanding of the Classics, illuminate the ancient world for young people and encourage them to think about entering higher education.

“We included a combination of sport, culture and politics during the day’s events and employed History and Classics students working as ambassadors and role models.”

The pupils looked at the historical, geographical and political contexts of ancient Greece and the Olympic games and the similarities between the ancient and modern worlds.

Activities included making mascots, an introduction to the Greek alphabet and discussions on the relative position of women. Play, drama, costume and footraces, which is an ancient form of competitive running and walking, all contributed to a stimulating interactive experience of the ancient world.

Using quizzes and film, pupils then looked at how modern cinema has interpreted the ancient world. Turning to the modern Olympics, pupils looked a key moments where the games became embroiled in political situations such as the 1936 Olympics, apartheid in South Africa and the 1972 terrorist attack on Israeli athletes.

Ms Pudner said: “The team were astonished at pupils’ ability to lose themselves in the dramatic and historical activities and also to suspend their disbelief and act out scenes from the Olympics in costumes they made from recycled materials and thereby develop their self confidence, team working and presentation skills.

“The pupils gave very positive feedback, many of them saying that it had shown them that higher education was an option.”

“The Reaching Wider team has a strong portfolio and history of successful experiential events on campus. London 2012 has provided them with an opportunity to develop a blend of the ancient and modern worlds in a way that enthuses young people with a passion for the ancient world, whilst also gaining an understanding of the here and now.”

Professor Alan Speight, Pro Vice Chancellor of Swansea University said: “We are delighted that the Reaching Wider South West Wales Partnership ‘Olympic Days’ have been recognised as exemplary widening participation practice by the Times Higher Education Supplement. It is very important that young people are aware of the ancient history of the Olympics and modern universities can play a part in that, working with local schools and colleges to encourage an understanding of learning and sport.”

The award winner will be announced in the Grosvenor House Hotel London on 29th November.