Belfast Met puts fun into learning with circus school lessons

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Image: Students enjoying their class at the Belfast Community Circus School

Brian Pelan reports on an innovative project at the Belfast Community Circus School

On a cold day in February, a group of students warmed everyone up with their laughter and enthusiasm at the Belfast Community Circus School

An excellent project, which started three years ago, has linked up Belfast Met students with learning disabilities and the circus. The students learn to use circus routines as a way to develop team building, self-confidence and literacy and numeracy skills.

Allison Anderson, Curriculum Area Manager for the Centre for Supported Learning at the Belfast Met, said: “We provide full time and part-time education and training provision for young people and adults with complex and severe learning difficulties.

“We have enrolments in excess of 400, studying across a range of programmes and campuses.

“The young people who are at the Belfast Community Circus School today are full time students in their first year at college.

“Class-room based curriculum is not always the best way forward for our students, so we try to make the experience for them as diverse and interesting as possible.

“Some of our students have physical disabilities and all have learning difficulties.

“Some have Down’s syndrome and others have Cerebral Palsy. They may also have autism, Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) or mental health issues on top of their learning difficulties.

“This is the third year that we have been involved in this project with the Belfast Community Circus School. It’s been a brilliant experience for our students.

“A lot of the students would see coming here as a highlight of their studying. It’s fun, it’s a different way of learning and being taught.

“They certainly respond very well to it. They do a show every year which is always great fun.”

Will Chamberlain, Director of the Belfast Community Circus School, told how the innovative project came about. “About three years ago, circus trainer Jacob Anderson expressed an interest in working with young people with disabilities. He put together a proposal for a project with very clear outcomes for Belfast Met. . “We received funding from Children in Need and put the process into action. Jacob and the team involved in this project have achieved great results.

“This project shows that circus isn’t restricted to people flying through the air on trapezes. It’s about making the most of every individual, irrespective of who they are, where they are from and what their starting point is.

“The students love it and the parents are also very happy with it. I enjoy seeing the students develop skills they will use in their lives outside the circus.

“Jacob really encourages the students to think for themselves and to support each other.”

With planned cuts in arts and Department of Learning budgets, there is a concern that the project may be affected. That would be a real shame as learning needs an element of creative fun. The circus delivers this on all fronts.

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