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New initiatives support student mental health

Two school division working together to help students
MVT kathleen finnigan 1
Kathleen Finnigan, Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools superintendent. Submitted photo

INNISFAIL - School councils in Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools (RDCRS) plan to use new grant money to promote and support student mental health, says superintendent Kathleen Finnigan.

In her monthly report to trustees, Finnigan said the new Alberta School Council Engagement Grant provided by Alberta Education, with each school council receiving $500, aims to support individual school councils and strengthen engagement with parents.

RDCRS includes schools in Innisfail and Olds. School councils serve an advisory role in school communities and are made up of parents and other stakeholders.

“This year RDCRS school councils and administration agreed to use the school grant money either at a local school council level or to seek out keynote speakers available to all of our parent community in RDCRS through in-person and/or via Zoom,” said Finnigan.

“Based on feedback from administration and school councils, the main areas sought by both groups are a continuation from last year – parent/student mental health and strategies to support mental health, and to support student learning at home and at school.”

Specific topics keynote speakers will be addressing including supporting student resilience and mental health, and student motivation.

During the recent board meeting, trustees were also updated on another mental health initiative now underway in the division. 

Jodi Smith, associate superintendent of inclusive education with RDCRS, presented a report as part of the update.

The Mental Health Transition Consultants Model project involves both RDCRS and Chinook’s Edge School Division (CESD). It is supported by a $1.4 million grant from Alberta Education.

Under the project, mental health transition consultants (MHTC) have already been hired and placed in five areas: Blackfalds, Sylvan Lake and Rocky Mountain House; Red Deer; Innisfail and Penhold; Olds and Sundre; and CESD south, including Didsbury and Carstairs.

The consultants will focus on topics such as student anxiety, mood disorder, inattention and impulsivity, depression, trauma and safety/risk, she said.

Under the program, school counsellors will complete a form for referral to the MHTCs, which includes completed mental health assessment identifying the top two areas of concern. 

The counsellors will also fill in comprehensive support model documents which will identify the top two lagging skills that the individual student requires specific learning focus.

The MHTCs will build plans focused on tackling the student’s lagging skills – such as language and community, attention and working memory, cognitive flexible thinking, emotion and self-regulation skills, and social thinking skills – to help address unsolved problems.

The process will include support and training for educational assistants or teaching staff working with the student as well as family school counsellors working with the family.

“Focusing on the lagging skills for a short and intense period of time will help with unsolved problems,” she said. “We are working to support access to programming and worked with students purposefully while they wait for community support.”

Dr. Marcie Perdue, associate superintendent of student services with CESD, said the two school divisions are sharing staff as part of the initiative.

“Rather than focusing on concerning (student) behaviours, we want to look at solving problems with students,” Perdue said. “We are looking at what are the actual problems they are coming to school with that we can help them solve so we don’t see those concerning behaviours.

“The other exciting thing is before we used to be quite unilateral, where we made plans for the students who were struggling and then we put those plans in place with the student. Now with this model we are actually involving the student in the process.”

The initiative is expected to run until the end of 2024.

Dan Singleton

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