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The Board Connection

Taking care of our students' mental health

Feb. 27, 2019

A Kindergarten student who struggles to connect with classmates. A high schooler grieving the death of a loved one. A refugee starting school in Canada. In our schools and homes, mental health challenges come in different forms, from temporary circumstances to diagnosed illness. Our students, parents and teachers have told us consistently that students need more mental health supports. Healthy students are students who are ready to learn.

Guiding our staff and partners in supporting students’ mental health is the District-wide mental health framework, released earlier this month. It gives students and the people who work with them a common language, understanding and approach to mental health.

The framework reinforces that each of our students has unique mental health needs, just like their learning needs. In a District with more than 102,000 students, there are just as many potential pathways to supports, and opportunities to help young people understand their own mental health and how to manage it in school and life.

We know early intervention is key. Half of all mental health conditions start by age 14. While there remain barriers to accessing mental health supports, the majority of students who do receive supports and services report accessing them through school. Our classrooms are where we can talk about mental health and put students on the right path to supports if and when they need them.

Support to students needs to be consistent, collaborative and co-ordinated. But it isn’t right now. The proportion of students in need of services continues to outpace available resources. More services are needed in schools—where students are—but we should not have to take money out of classrooms to provide them.

Our teachers see students grow and change, through ups and downs. While they can be among the first to recognize red flags, we need more professional supports in our schools so teachers can focus on teaching, and students get the help they need when they’re most vulnerable.

To see real change, we need adequate, sustainable funding for mental health supports and services in our schools.

Given the importance and urgency of this work, the Board of Trustees formed a mental health committee this fall. Through the committee, we are advocating to the province for more mental health funding to schools and improved collaboration between Health and Education to eliminate gaps in care.

By advocating for every student’s mental health needs, we are following through on our District’s commitment and vision: Success, one student at a time.

As the provincial election approaches, ask your candidates to commit to mental health funding for public schools. Our young people—our future leaders—deserve it.