Schools Mental Health & Well-being Program
In early 2016 the Community Foundation awarded a Strategic grant of $35,000 to the Mirboo North Primary and Secondary Colleges to support the implementation of mental health frameworks across both of these schools: KidsMatter in the Primary School and MindMatters at the Secondary College. This support is in recognition of the evidence that students can only reach their full educational potential when they are happy, healthy, resilient and safe, and when there is a positive and inclusive school culture that is fair and respectful to engage and support their learning. Both KidsMatter and MindMatters provide the methods, tools and support to assist the schools together with parents and the wider community, to promote student well-being, and thereby engagement.
In the Primary School, the KidsMatter framework was introduced in 2014, starting with a focus on community connections to the school. This was the inaugural year of the KidsMatter Expo, bringing parents, carers and the community into the School to see the kids carrying out fun learning activities. This is now in its third year and has expanded to include twilight sports and a barbeque. The second focus for Kidsmatter was the implementation of a Social and Emotional Learning Program, which would teach children how to manage emotions and interact well socially, thereby improving behaviour and lessening class disruptions. In 2015, MNPS chose PAThS (or Promoting Alternative Thinking Styles) as its social and emotional program and this was one of the areas where the Strategic Grant was invested. PAThS required the purchase of materials and training of teachers, and this cost the Primary School approx. $5,000.
In the Secondary College, the MindMatters framework was also underway, but not embedded in the day to day operations of the school. The Secondary College employed a project co-ordinator who could dedicate time to rolling out and bedding in the various modules within the Secondary College. The Secondary College had carried out Youth Resilience Survey at the end of 2015 which provided direction on which areas were of concern to the students and should be prioritised. The Project officer also facilitated the same survey at the end of 2016, which allowed for comparison and identification of emerging trends.
Another focus area for the Project co-ordinator was a review of particular practices, policies and programs using the MindMatters tools, which lead to positive change and fresh ideas being implemented. Additional professional development supported areas of need and the Project Officer has also gathered the detail of all of the policies, programs and procedures which promote the well-being of the students, into one place. The Strategic grant has also funded workshops for Year 11 and 12s to develop strategies for handling stress and managing time.
The transition from primary to secondary college is a big leap and ensuring the transition is as smooth as possible is a high priority for MN Primary and MN Secondary College. The Project officer has spent time forging connections between the two in the mental health and well-being area. The success of this element was obvious throughout 2016, with the sharing of teachers, learning spaces and resources across both schools, which built relationships between teachers and students while building familiarisation with the Grade 6 Primary Students.
As mentioned above, the culmination of the year-long program was the professional learning facilitated by Andrew Fuller, which was attended by the Primary School and Secondary College staff as well as teachers from local schools in the district. For teachers, Andrew was a wealth of knowledge about how the brain develops and works. He gave many strategies about various teaching methods, the best way to help students retain information as the importance of developing strong relationships and connections to the school. In the parent session, Andrew encouraged parents to focus on their children’s strengths, emphasising that within every child there is a genius waiting to be discovered and nurtured. Andrew said that kids need to be optimistic about the future in order to capitalise on opportunities and that it is important that kids are able to make mistakes, as these are the real learning opportunities.
From the Community Foundation perspective, we are very pleased that this Mental Health and Well-being Program has rolled out so successfully, embedding positive changes in this area with respect to policy, practice, teaching and the environment into two of our local schools. The impact of this Program an be seen through the improved mental health, well-being and engagement of the students across both schools, which will lead through into improved educational outcomes for our future generation.