Talented Panathlete Jensen Winter has proven himself a pioneer at Hill Top School in Gateshead – making him a worthy winner of our Outstanding Achievement award for Tyne and Wear.

Just before the pandemic outbreak, Jensen became only the fifth student ever to make the transition from the school’s Autism Centre to learning alongside mainstream peers in the Sixth Form. This year, he also became the first ever autistic pupil to win the school’s Jim Dawson Award for sporting excellence.

Jensen Winter

Jensen, 18, has represented the school in Panathlon competitions for the last six years. Those experiences laid the foundations for him making the transition into mainstream Sixth Form. “The Panathlon Games gave him lots of confidence as it was one of the few occasions he could mix with students from the main school, as an equal,” explained PE teacher Sean Connelly.

That confidence motivated him and a friend to become the first ever students from the Autism Centre (and one of very few boys) to represent the school at the Gateshead School Dance Festival at The Sage theatre. Sean said: “Dealing with a large audience, loud music and flashing lights is quite an achievement for any student, let alone ones from the Autism Centre.”

Since returning to school after the lockdowns, Jensen has taken part in the Panathlon Virtual Programme activities offered to the school (more details here). He also took part in inter-house competitions across all sports which included Panathlon challenges. Collingwood house were crowned the winners.

His biggest achievement, though, was being crowned overall winner at the Hill Top School sports day. That earned him the prestigious Jim Dawson Award for what his teacher Sean calls “his excellent attitude and determination”. The award is given each year to the student who has shown great achievement in sport, always tries their best, shows excellent sportsmanship and impeccable behaviour.

Being the first student from the Autism Centre to achieve this, and following it up with Panathlon’s Outstanding Achievement award, left Jensen “absolutely over the moon and totally surprised”. At the trophy presentation during Hill Top’s end-of-year sports assembly, he said he would be asking his parents for curry sauce and chips for tea to celebrate!

Jensen Winter

Sean added: “Being a student from our Autism Centre made it very difficult for Jensen to understand what was going on and why his routine had changed so much during the pandemic.

“It must also have been very frustrating, after just getting settled in to the main school Sixth Form, for it to suddenly stop and then return to something very different to what he was used to.

“Despite missing large chunks of his two years in the Sixth Form, Jensen has made excellent progress and is ready to move on to the next stage of his education. His time spent with students from the main school in sports gave him the confidence to join their class on a full-time basis, where he has excelled and made friends. I do think that without using the sport experiences as a transition, this would have been a whole lot harder for him.”

Panathlon Chief Operating Officer, Tony Waymouth, said: “Jensen is a deserved winner of our Outstanding Achievement award for the many milestones he has passed and barriers he has overcome during his time at Hill Top School. It is great to hear how sport has been a springboard for him to achieve success in many areas, and that Panathlon has played a part in that personal journey.”

Panathlon would like to thank the Sir James Knott Trust for their support.