Student Services staff work diligently to meet the diverse needs of all students at the Black Gold School Division.The department, made up of a variety of specialized professionals – speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, educational psychologists, a mental health nurse, family school liaisons, educational audiologists, teacher of the blind/low vision, special education teachers, and success coaches – who work with students and families to understand a child’s abilities, identify their struggles, and create personalized strategies to support their overall growth and development, and allow them to thrive.
As students emerge from the disruptive COVID-19 pandemic with widespread evidence of learning losses, along with associated mental health challenges, it is critical that schools intervene quickly to help those who are struggling.
The Student Services department also has an innovative Mental Health Capacity Building (MHCB) program, which works year round to promote positive mental health in children, youth, families, and communities. A team of three success coaches work within school and in community settings to facilitate incremental skill-building programs, introduce and practice coping skills and tools, and promote mental, emotional, and social well-being.
One tool utilized by the team is Kimochis, an evidence-based program for teaching emotional intelligence that is a favorite among staff and students. Kimochis features seven characters, who provide different lessons to students on relationship building, handling big emotions, and developing coping skills so that they can be happier, more resilient, and better able to cope with the challenges of the society we live in.
“…students show immense growth in their emotional vocabulary. Instead of identifying just as being happy, mad or sad, teachers begin hearing words like frustrated, worried, and optimistic from their students.”
– MHCB Success Coach Jenna Bosch
“An example of one character is Bug, who is scared of most things but through his story book he discovers that he has the support of his friends and is able to demonstrate bravery and overcome his fears,” said Success Coach Jenna Bosch. “Another character is Cloud, whose emotions change from happiness to frustration very quickly, so his friends need some space when he is speaking unkindly to them.”
“An added bonus of a Kimochis classroom lesson is that students show immense growth in their emotional vocabulary,” she added. “Instead of identifying just as being happy, mad or sad, teachers begin hearing words like frustrated, worried, and optimistic from their students.”
Over the last few years, the MHCB team has focused on integrating the Mental Health Literacy program for students in Grade 9-12. “In this program, students learn the stigma and realities of mental illness,” said MHCB Program Manager Cherie Corcoran. “The literacy program also breaks down common mental health illnesses to further educate students on exactly what it means to have Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Bipolar, and other neurodevelopmental disorders.”
“A large component of this program is the Mental Health Pyramid, which teaches the difference between mental distress, mental health problems, and a mental health disorder,” said Corcoran. “It is important to use the right words when talking about mental health and mental illness in order to improve care outcomes.”
The team’s efforts have not gone unnoticed, and school staff from across the Division are lauding the MHCB program. “Having Success Coach Jenna in my class has always been a pleasure,” said Kyla Donovan, Grade 2 teacher at École Leduc Estates School. “She’s knowledgeable and incredibly kind. She treats all of my students with the utmost respect, while teaching them about emotional regulation and self-acceptance through the Slumberkins, Mind-Up and We Thinker programs.”
“The impact that Jenna and Nikki have had on my students, not only this year but in years past, is made clear when my students’ faces light up and I hear audible whoops of excitement when I tell them the two ladies are coming”,” said Grade 5 teacher Rickie-Lee Hildebrand. “They feel safe, heard, and validated while learning valuable lessons.”
Students in Mrs.Ziesman’s Grade 4/5 class are also enthusiastic about the MHCB program and their success coaches. “Miss Jenna and Miss Nikki do an amazing job by helping us calm ourselves down after a long day of school,” said Madyson. “I like having them here at the end of the day.”
“Spending time with the coaches makes me feel good, funky, fun, positive, and excellent!” said Sophia. Brynlee would love to make glitter jars someday to help her calm her stress, and Hudson would like to see more mental health games to play with classmates.
“The MHCB team goes above and beyond for us,” said Tarynne Cable, assistant principal at Willow Park School in Leduc. “They run small group programs for self-regulation, children in change, and more. They also help our families coordinate the wraparound services they need, and run our monthly kindergarten parent breakfasts.””
“Cherie and her team have been a tremendous support for New Sarepta Community High School,” said Laurel Osness, school counsellor and physical education teacher. “Without the team’s involvement at our small rural school, many students would not be receiving the much needed support and education regarding mental health literacy.”
For more information about the mental health services available to Black Gold students and families, please visit www.blackgold.ca/parents/supports-for-students.