Panathlon threw a Harry Potter-themed Christmas party in Doncaster to say a huge thank you to the deaf pupils that have taken part in competitions this year.
Five schools from as far afield as Middlesbrough, Huddersfield and Derby flocked to Doncaster School for the Deaf to be dazzled by a Harry Potter magician in a huge Christmas-themed marquee, as well as to dance, socialise and celebrate their many achievements.
The festive, sociable and inclusive atmosphere was perfect for the 72 children to let their hair down, an opportunity that many don’t get as they often feel isolated because of their communicaion difficulties.
Teachers from Lowerhouses School in Huddersfield were astonished at one point to see a pupil, who always wears his hood up as he’s embarrassed by his cochlear implant, take his hood down and mingle confidently among the party-goers.
“He recognised that there are many other children just like him. It really took his teachers’ breath away,” said Jane Goodman, Deputy Head of hosts Doncaster School for the Deaf.
She added: “It’s valuable that the children get to meet each other, socialise and build their confidence as deaf young people.
“They don’t tend to get invited to parties, so this is a massive experience for them. They often struggle in events such as this in an environment where communication with others is difficult, so we have to be very pro-active in arranging these events. There are fewer profoundly deaf children so they can become isolated.
“We are very proud that at this event staff have brought their pupils from so far away, such as Middlesbrough, Huddersfield and Derby. We have fantastic facilities here and are delighted to host events for deaf children.
“We are one of the oldest schools for the deaf for pupils aged four to 19 years . We have an outstanding residential provision and pupils have very positive views of school . Being with deaf peers means a great deal to them. We are always pleased to invite visitors.
“We have worked with Panathlon to host boccia and multi-sports events and are planning further competitions for this summer.”
Neve, 10, from Lowerhouses School said of the party: “It’s so cool here! I have been excited about this all week!” Her classmate, Mosa (pictured right with Neve), said it had been “absolutely amazing!”
A very special guest on the day was 15-year-old Declan Gunn, a former Doncaster School for the Deaf pupil who moved away to Wolverhampton six months ago when his father moved jobs.
Unfortunately, he has been unable to find an appropriate school in the West Midlands, but returning to his old school for the party clearly lifted his spirits. Whilst in Doncaster he excelled at sport and competed in Panathlon competitions.
His mum Jackie explained: “It means a lot for him to come back here. He’s been really lonely with very little interaction with anybody, he’s getting anxious and just wants to be around deaf people. It’s lovely for him to be back amongst his old friends.”
Teaching assistant at Doncaster, Tracy Brown, said: “We really miss him. Declan used to always ask me, ‘Are you OK?’ This little boy with all these problems, and he’s asking me if I’m OK! His personality is just unbelievable. He’s just such a lovely lad. He brightens everybody’s day.”
Helen Hodkinson, primary teacher and PE co-ordinator at Royal School for the Deaf in Derby, was delighted to bring pupils along to celebrate their achievements in the year since they’ve thrown themselves so wholeheartedly into Panathlon’s programmes.
“Panathlon competitions have been so helpful because our pupils can find themselves quite cut off. They’ve been able to mix with other deaf children and make connections with children in different areas who share their experiences.
“We have children from nursery age right up to 16, many with complex needs as well as hearing impairments, and the brilliant thing is Panathlon’s sporting activities are so accessible to all of them. They have really enhanced our sport provision.
“Sport helps them with things like self-esteem and improving their confidence, wellbeing and health. They may be struggling academically, but this is something in which they can experience competition and really achieve success. That in turn improves their concentration and achievement levels back in the classroom.”
A minibus of children departed Sunnyside Academy in Middlesbrough early in the morning to attend the party. They too have fully engaged with Panathlon competitions, and hosted a hearing impaired competition at their school. The day after the party, they were off to Newcastle to compete in a deaf Panathlon boccia event at Percy Hedley School.
“The social side of today is really important for them,” said teacher Michelle Runcieman-Smeaton. “Panathlon has given our children the opportunity to get together with other deaf and hearing impaired children and be successful in sport. Panathlon lets them compete on an even keel and feel what it’s like to be successful.”
Sunnyside pupil Mia Lane, nine, said: “I’ve loved it, especially the Harry Potter man giving out the cards. I’ve won loads of Panathlon medals which we keep in a glass cabinet at school.”
Sophie Webb, 10, added: “My mum is a huge Harry Potter fan – she is going to be well jealous!”
Students from Plover Primary School in Doncaster were invited along by Doncaster Deaf Trust and we hope to welcome them into the ‘Panathlon nation’ very soon!
At one point, teacher Miss Smith was picked out by the Harry Potter magician to come up on stage and have her head ‘chopped off’ by a guillotine. “The children have loved it – especially that bit!” laughed fellow Plover staff member Becky Pantegi. “It’s great for them to meet other deaf children and see the opportunities that are out there for them.”
Panathlon wish to thank all pupils and staff from Sunnyside, Lowerhouses, the Royal Derby School for the Deaf and Plover School for coming along, and of course hosts Doncaster School for the Deaf. Many thanks also to our funders Jane’s Appeal, the Ovingdean Hall Foundation and Hays Travel for helping to make the day possible.