Northern Lights Public Schools (NLPS) is entering an important phase in its work to improve student mental health and wellness.
“A key part of our plan is engaging parents and providing them with opportunities that will help them to support the mental health of their children,” said Board Chair Karen Packard. “Now that we have gained some momentum with building capacity with our school staff and programming for our students, we want to focus on ways we can work together and with our community to better support our youth.”
All students in Kindergarten to Grade 12 will be taking part in a student mental health survey in March to help the division identify where students need support, what factors are impacting their mental health, and what aspects of mental health the division should focus on. The division will also be launching a survey for parents to learn more about their perspectives on student mental health, what resources they may need to support their children, and what challenges they may be experiencing in accessing services. Parents will receive an email later this month with a link to the survey.
“It is important for us to get some input from parents about how we can support them and continue to advocate for our students,” said Packard.
The division’s Mental Health Plan can be found on the nlpsab.ca website and includes links to more detailed information about various parts of the plan.
Here are some of the ways that the division has been working to improve the mental health and wellness of all of their students:
This action involves developing and delivering a menu of capacity-building training sessions for staff.
NLPS is fortunate to receive a grant through the Alberta Health Services Mental Health Capacity Building project. Our project is called Successful Families. Successful Kids and through the grant we are able to hire a project coordinator and wellness coaches that work in each region of the division.
Their Wellness Coaches have developed a series of presentations for staff, students and parents. They can facilitate these sessions in classrooms and have also worked with teachers to incorporate the information into lessons that align with the curriculum or other classroom activities. Prior to the pandemic, in-person sessions were offered to parents and online sessions continue to be available. Parent sessions cover topics such as vaping, digital addiction, anxiety versus stress, and hope.
NLPS Wellness Coaches also work with other community groups to offer sessions to the whole community. For example, they work with Lac La Biche County FCSS to organize an It Starts with Hope parent group that offers monthly sessions for parents on many topics related to mental health, parent-child relationships, and child development.
The division’s most recent professional development day for staff on November 26 focused on Mental Health Literacy. All staff completed Go To Educator training to help NLPS establish a common understanding and language for discussing mental health.
Go To Educator provides a suite of learning opportunities that includes training for teachers, curriculum they can use in classrooms from K-12, as well as programs specifically for Grade 12 students to prepare them for life after graduation. There are also parent sessions that have been developed.
The training focuses on understanding how to foster and maintain good mental health, understanding mental disorders and their treatments, decreasing stigma, and understanding how to seek help and use referral pathways to health care services.
One of the goals of NLPS was to provide all staff with the knowledge to discuss mental health from the same understanding and using the same language. For example, understanding the difference between negative and positive stress.
The next stage of this initiative is to work with NLPS school administrators to investigate how to integrate Mental Health Literacy in our schools and classrooms. As part of our engagement with parents, we look forward to gathering input about whether or not this is an area that parents would like to learn more about.
Mental Health Literacy builds on other mental health focused professional development that has been offered to all staff in the division since the division established student mental health as a priority including The Brain Architecture Game, and The Poverty Simulation.
Student Advocacy Counsellors
This part of the plan focuses on enhancing and supporting counsellors as they work with all students. Northern Lights commits a significant portion of the funding it receives for student support services towards ensuring that a student advocacy counsellor is assigned to each school and students have access to the supports those counsellors provide.
Over the last two years, NLPS has focused on building capacity with our student advocacy counsellors and ensuring similar services are being offered at each location. This has included professional development for our counsellors, selecting a virtual platform for counsellors to connect with students when in-person visits are not possible, introducing software that allows us to better track referrals and increase opportunities for division supports to be provided to students who need them.
We have also formed a partnership with CASA Child Adolescent and Family Mental Health to provides support to our counselors with specific, unique cases. This has allowed us to access expertise that we do not have in our division to help our students.
NLPS has been connecting with our community partners, including other local school divisions, so everyone is aware of what services and resources are available locally. This has led to the creation of partnerships to deliver programming and discussions on how to streamline the provision of services for our students and their families.
We have also been working with Alberta Health Services to identify student needs that are beyond the scope of our Student Advocacy Counsellors and how to connect those students to supports available through AHS Mental Health and Addictions. As part of this work, NLPS has created a parent information sheet that our counsellors can fill out to support parents as they take a referral to Alberta Mental Health or other partner agencies (Psychologist, Therapist, etc.).
Community Helpers Program
Community Helpers is a peer helping program designed for youth and young adults, between the ages of 12 to 30. The program provides training to youth who are identified as natural helpers so that they can help their peers and connect them to supports in their school and community that can assist them further.
Thanks to a grant from Alberta Health Services, NLPS was able to hire a part-time coordinator to offer this program to all of their high schools and junior high schools. Several schools have taken part in the training so far in 2021-2022.
NLPS is also looking at the feasibility of offering a parent session to support parents if their child approaches or brings a friend to them asking for help.