Everton Free School marks its milestone 10th anniversary by launching a weather balloon into near-space, kicking off its next decade in style.
Former students joined teachers, current pupils and key partners on Friday 23 September for the occasion at Welshpool, with the balloon travelling a total of almost 30km.
The event was the culmination of a week-long schedule of activities designed to inspire and encourage youngsters to consider a career in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths).
Throughout the week, students had been given the chance to try their hand at a range of skills and hear from experts within areas such as forensics, medicine, astrophysics and web virtual reality development, as well as a visit to the new Everton Stadium at Bramley-Moore Dock.
The launch was an opportunity for them to track the balloon’s journey, while a 360-degree camera on board also captured images of Earth.
Set up by Everton in the Community, the club’s charitable arm, the school offers alternative educational opportunities to young people who have either been expelled or are at risk of exclusion.
Former student Zack Kelly, who says it “saved his life”, enrolled at the school when he was 13 years old after being expelled from the mainstream school he was attending, having spent much of his childhood in and out of the care system.
Zack, 23, who now works as an intervention mentor at Everton in the Community, said:
“Looking back, mainstream education was just not right for me. I’d spent a long time in care and got into a lot of trouble at school – I was getting into fights and generally getting into trouble.
“But Everton Free School was completely different. I’d always been known by teachers as the ‘naughty kid’ or the ‘class clown’ but I felt I was seen as a person rather than a number at Everton and that made a huge difference to my behaviour.
“Being there 100% saved my life, I have no doubt about it. It scares me to think where I could have been now if I hadn’t gone to Everton Free School as I was headed down a very different path.
“It’s incredible to celebrate the school’s 10th anniversary – it’s a real credit to the amazing teachers who go above and beyond every day.”
As part of the launch, a specially-created Everton kit designed by an Everton Football College student was attached to the balloon, as part of a school-wide competition.
Everton and England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and Everton Women’s player Izzy Christansen selected Ethan Westray as the winner, with club sponsor hummel* bringing the design to life and creating 500 shirts for students and staff.
Both the men’s and women’s first teams signed the kits before they were launched into near-space, with plans to auction them to raise money for disadvantaged students in the school and college.
Jordan said: “Everton Free School is an incredibly special place and it’s a real honour to be helping the staff and students celebrate such huge milestone.
“Ethan’s design stood out to us as it’s creative and unique – it perfectly captures the theme of the occasion and looks great too. It’s amazing to see it being launched into near-space today.”
During the event, year 11 students used GPS technology to track the balloon as it descended back down to Earth, with it landing in Eccleshall.
Principal Steven Baker, who was awarded an OBE last year for his services to education, said:
“Our success during the last 10 years is a true testament to the efforts of our fantastic team, together with our students’ ambition and drive.
“Our students’ achievements have gone from strength to strength each year. But it’s not just about the qualifications they take away – it’s the life skills and experience that they take into the world after education.
“We are incredibly proud to have reached such a milestone in our history and to mark it by taking Everton into near-space is extremely special, especially with our one-off kits on-board, thanks to our talented students and hummel*.
“Now, we’re looking forward to the possibilities of the next 10 years as we continue to build on our success.”
For more information about Everton Free School and Football College, visit www.evertonfreeschool.com