New Hall School Celebrates Neurodiversity

By School House

2 years ago

New Hall School students and staff marked Neurodiversity Celebration Week (21-27 March) with a series of events including assemblies, lunchtime talks and an art installation.

The week’s celebrations at the leading Catholic day and boarding school in Chelmsford are in recognition of the fact that all people’s brains work differently, that we are all unique and each of these differences should be valued. The events were organised by Suzanna Minnis, Head of the Girls’ & Boys’ Divisions, Vanessa Minihane, Acting Head of Learning Development, and Classics teacher Charlie Hailes. They were designed to be informative while demonstrating the School’s solidarity with anyone who might be neurodivergent.

A colourful display of umbrellas, decorated with details of students’ individual talents and ‘superpowers’, is now suspended in the School’s cloister as a reminder of, and salute to, cognitive differences.

neurodiversity: colourful umbrella canopy
New Hall staff Charlie Hailes, Suzanna Minnis and Vanessa Minihane with Year 13 student Albert Holland under the colourful umbrella canopy

Across the week, students learned how they can respect diversity and support each other. Sixth Form students Charlotte Handelaar and Albert Holland, who captains the School Riding Team, shared their personal stories of dyslexia.

Charlie Hailes, who has a diagnosis of autism, received a standing ovation for his inspiring Sixth Form talk on autism awareness, sharing his life journey and thoughts on how people can make everyone, including those who are neurodivergent, feel more included and accepted. Next term he will give the talk to other year groups. A link to a recording can be found here.

Further lunchtime talks included two from New Hall parents, Dr Peter Berry and Mr Preetham Peddanagari, on the positives of neurodivergent thinking.

  • Dr Peter Berry, Consultant in Anaesthesia and Burns Intensive Care, spoke about his educational journey making links with the personal qualities often associated with individuals with dyslexia and the advantages that these qualities had brought to his career.
  • Mr Preetham Peddanagari, who is a partner at Ernst and Young, spoke to students about his company’s worldwide Neurodiversity Centres of Excellence which recognise the economic and business benefits of having teams which include neurodivergent thinkers. In his talk, he gave examples of neurodivergent individuals who have led innovation and driven scientific and technological change.
  • Professor Susan Deacy, a lecturer from Roehampton University, gave a talk on autism and classics, discussing her research into this and encouraging students to colour in a Herculean drawing to explore different interpretations of the scene.

Katherine Jeffery, Principal of New Hall, said: “There have been so many positive comments from parents, students and staff in response to this neurodiversity celebration. I’m proud that our students have enthusiastically engaged with the topic, gaining a greater understanding of, and empathy with, those who are not neurotypical. 

“The various activities and talks have demonstrated that being neurodiverse is not a barrier to a successful career, indeed the opposite is quite often true. Our individuality is something we should wear as a badge of honour; it is what makes us special and gives colour to all of our lives. That is why we actively support a range of talents in the New Hall community through sport and other co-curricular activities as well as learning development.”

See New Hall’s online listing here.