Evening boarders at St Mary’s School in Melrose have recently benefitted from a work placement collaboration with Borders College sports students who have been coaching them on their cycling skills.

Six students on the College’s Mountain Biking programme were in need of work placements as part of their programme of study, and their lecturer Janet Jack decided to approach St Mary’s Deputy Head, Fiona Bell, to find out if they could facilitate something.

After an initial meeting between the students, Janet and Fiona, it was decided that coaching sessions for the school’s boarders would take place on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, where the College students shared their wealth of skill and experience.  Coaches and pupils often shared an evening meal together prior to their sessions, and they also held a full day event in June where the group of twenty-five 9-10 year olds honed their cycling skills in Scott Park and Gala Policies.

Fiona said:

“3 had never ridden a bike, some were anxious and a few, pretty able; all 25 came away saying what a brilliant day they had and our 3 non-cyclists can now ride their bikes! It would not be an exaggeration to say, that in 27 years of teaching, it was one of the best days I have been part of.

“It has been fascinating to observe them learn how to work with, and coach, children of various ability level.”

Student Gregor Nixon echoed this, saying:

“I had never coached children before.  It was good to play games with them, and although we were there to teach tactical skills, we found that once the children began to enjoy playing games, they learned more by having fun.”

On the final evening, the school participants hosted a football match followed by a barbecue where they presented Gregor, Tom, Ian, Seth, Jake and Finlay with boxes of chocolate brownies as a token of their thanks.

Janet Jack said of the arrangement:

“This is a fantastic relationship that we have created with St Mary's and I would like to extend our thanks in particular to Fiona Bell for providing this great coaching opportunity.”

The successful sessions not only helped the Downhillers to complete an essential part of their course, it also benefited the school pupils who built up a real rapport with their coaches. Fiona described the students as “fabulous, and a real credit to Borders College”, a sentiment reinforced by the parent of a junior competitor at the British Enduro Championship at Innerleithen where one of the students who coached at St Mary’s, Tom Wilson, was also competing.

After winning the first three stages in his category, Tom unfortunately had to pull out of the race due to a mechanical issue, usurping his hopes of becoming a British champion.  Despite his own disappointment, he found the time to assist his fellow competitor who was struggling to get his tyre back on after a puncture.

The competitor’s parent wished Tom all the luck for future, saying:

“He was friendly and chatty, telling me all about the things that you do, even though inside he must have been extremely frustrated.  He was a fantastic ambassador to your college and in my eyes is a definite winner.”

Dirt School Coach, Andy Barlow, who works with the Downhill students on their tactical skills on a weekly basis, was delighted to receive such kind words, adding:

“I’m so proud of all our students on the BASE Mountain Biking course, and this story really exemplifies the kind of behaviour and attitude toward life that I hope we instil in all of our students at Borders College.”

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