Advocacy, Champions, Education

Guest Post: The Power of A School Wide Experience

There is a quote from Jane Goodall that says:

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

At the beginning of May, I was invited to speak to a group of youth at one of our local secondary schools on the importance of knowing our strengths. The session was part of a number of presentations happening that morning as part of the school’s Mental Wellness Week. I was impressed and excited to learn more about this event that is co-created by a team that includes current and former students. What started out as a small one day initiative just one year ago turned into a full week of the school celebrating and learning about mental wellness for 2017. I invited the lead coordinators to write about this event and the impact it is having on their school community. I hope their words will inspire you to think about the different things you might be able to do in your community. Thank you to Cambree Lovesy and Danae Hodgins for sharing your words and wisdom with my Champions readers.

Mental Wellness Day at Robert Bateman Secondary

The Power of a School Wide Experience

Authors: Cambree Lovesy & Danae Hodgins

The Event & Why it Began

As we collectively headed into the month of May, school culture at Robert Bateman Secondary was a buzz. With eight weeks left of the school year, the countdown was on to many things – AP exams, Provincial exams, pep rallies, and the freedom of summer holiday a distant light at the end of the tunnel. But, summer comes with both a light and dark side; While the sun is out, Vitamin D is increasing, and routine is relaxed, there is also an inevitable change and distance to the community of supports that exist within a school system.

With that said, Abbotsford is a community rich with diverse resources and supports for youth. In the eyes of a former Bateman grad, there was an opportunity for a bridge to be built between our students, staff, and the mental health supports that exist outside school. This opportunity also had the power to lend a hand in changing the conversation about mental illness to one that fosters autonomy and empathy along the continuum of mental health.

So, in the Winter of 2015, this student sought out a committee of peers, teachers, school counselors, and community agencies, all passionate in the effort to break stigma. The team gathered weekly to discuss ideas of how to create a school wide experience that left a lasting impression. As a result, our first event in May, 2016 was a single day event, with about 15 agencies from the Greater Vancouver Area, and 10 teacher presenters. Students signed-up for a topic or activity of interest, then attended a 1-hour breakout session. These sessions included everything from Yoga or Zumba, to informative sessions on mental health diagnosis.

The feedback was empowering. Students and staff referred to their experiences and learning for weeks on end. After walking alongside each other through a topic that’s much easier to dance around, our school found themselves owning the conversation in a positive way.

Proud of what was created, and high off the feedback, our committee met early this school year, in order to create an even more powerful experience. Our PAC caught wind of the event and generously offered their support in many ways. And so, it became a week long event. During lunch block, teachers ran sessions in their field of expertise, as related to mental health. These sessions included: Workout for Wellness, Demonstrating Self-Love, Music Therapy, and Story Telling. The week concluded with the involvement of 30 community agencies, ALL from Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley, so that the learning that took place didn’t need to be confined to the boundaries of our school property. Students now had the awareness of what is here for them outside the hours of school. Again, they signed-up for an experience of choice and attended a 1-hour breakout session.

Perhaps the most powerful way of expressing how this benefits our students is for our Grade 12 committee leader, Cambree Lovesy, to share her perspective:

How it benefits students

Since the Bateman Mental Wellness Week, we have been noticing many positive impacts of the week on our students and staff.  The week gave our school population an opportunity to start a conversation about mental health.  One in four people will struggle from a mental illness in their lifetime, but everyone will battle stress and anxiety, and our goal for this event was to break the stigma surrounding mental wellness.  As students and staff all had the opportunity to focus on their emotional and mental state of being, even if it was just for a portion of their week, everyone was introduced to a positive and healthy coping strategy for stress and anxiety.  Since the event, I have personally noticed more enthusiasm towards school clubs and after school activities by our students, as many of them were introduced to them during their mental wellness sessions.  Overall, our students have benefited by having been surrounded by an environment where it is acceptable to talk openly about mental health.

Why I think it’s important

Personally, I have struggled with an anxiety and eating disorder, and at the time when I was at my lowest, I thought there could not be a single person in the world going through the same thing.  That is why I have made it my goal to raise awareness for mental illnesses, because they are truly the secret illness.  When I was battling, nobody outside of my family and close friends knew what I was dealing with, and were all very confused as to why I had isolated myself from the world, and everything I used to be passionate about.  One is not in a healthy state without a healthy mind, and mental health is a necessary component to being healthy.  There is a large stigma surrounding mental illnesses, and simply a lack of understanding for the importance of mental wellness and being aware of our emotional state.  That is why I decided to plan our mental wellness week, and why I continue to advocate for mental health and publicize the effects our mental state has on our overall health.

Related: Mental health in youth: Building supports in schools Vancouver Sun April 2017

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