Student Mental Health Supports Remain Priority for Algoma District School Board Throughout the Pandemic

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Mental health and well-being are priorities of the Algoma District School Board (ADSB), especially as the Board navigates through the Covid-19 pandemic. Superintendent Brent Vallee provided an update on ADSB Mental Health Initiatives at the ADSB Regular Board Meeting on January 19, 2021.

Vallee prefaced his presentation with a reminder of the significant impact COVID-19 has had on students and their families throughout the province and the Algoma District. The pandemic has left many feeling emotionally overwhelmed, disconnected and isolated, while closures have created financial hardship for many. “We have moved to a completely different place than we’ve ever been before,” said Vallee. “The impact of the pandemic has been huge for all our students, families and our communities in general.”

To provide a local perspective, Superintendent Vallee shared examples of trends that ADSB counselors are hearing from students. Some are experiencing a lack of motivation. Other students may find it difficult to engage with teachers and classmates online. For many, there is a sense of uncertainty about what the future holds as Covid-19 cases continue to fluctuate. Students miss their friends and their “normal” routines.

As a school board, ADSB recognizes that students and their families face these challenges and that students are apt to bring challenges with their mental health and well-being into the school community. The board’s school-based mental-health team is dedicated to helping students and their caregivers. “We want to do whatever we can to make sure that our students are ready to learn and their well-being is certainly part of that,” said Vallee.

The ADSB Well-Being Leadership Committee provides a voice for different stakeholder groups to offer input and feedback on supports and resources available across the Board. The group meets virtually each month to discuss issues impacting well-being within ADSB schools. This team includes members of Senior Administration, Student Trustees, parent representatives and ADSB Board Leads for Mental Health (Darryl Fillmore), Indigenous Education (Carol Trudeau-McKewan), Safe Schools (Will Nelles) and Well-Being (Mendy Snider).

Through Student Senate, students have shared that they want to have a better understanding of mental-health resources available to them and where to access them. This month Student Senators from across the district will meet with ADSB Board Leads to discuss well-being in schools and how students can play a more active role. Students have developed a list of thought-provoking questions for this session and the Board is looking forward to this opportunity for enhanced engagement with students.

The ADSB Mental Health, Counselling, and Attendance Team continues to grow, with seventeen front-line Mental Health Professionals (15 School and Attendance Counsellors and 2 Mental Health Workers), in addition to the supports provided by the Mental Health Lead, Darryl Fillmore.

In addition to expanding our internal team, ADSB has also developed some unique partnerships with our co-terminus boards, community agencies and external service providers to help provide additional mental health supports for students inside and outside our schools.

For example, in partnership with Algoma Family Services (AFS), Algoma District School Board will offer the Rebound Mentorship Program for the fourth time, though this year it will be offered virtually. In this innovative program, Grade 12 mentors, working alongside AFS program facilitators, will work directly with Grade 7 and 8 students in their classroom using virtual technology. The program teaches and reinforces social skills that enable young people to make sound decisions, set goals and develop a sense of personal responsibility. As the program is being offered online this year, geography will no longer be a factor, which means that intermediate classrooms and secondary student mentors from across our district will be able to participate.

School Mental Health Ontario (SMHO) also continues to be a resource which ADSB accesses regularly. This is a provincial organization that supports the implementation of school-based mental health supports for school boards across Ontario and provides exceptional and accessible resources. Students, staff and families are encouraged to visit www.smho-smso.ca for helpful links, resources, quizzes and kits designed to support student mental health in general, and specifically during Covid-19.

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