MPS champions mental health throughout the year

by Stephen Dafoe

Kindness comes in one size and it fits all. That’s the message being shared throughout the community and across the country Feb. 24 on Pink Shirt Day. The movement began in 2007 as a way for two Nova Scotia students to support a fellow student bullied for wearing a pink shirt to school. Pink Shirt Day has grown over the past nine years to become a national day of awareness about the impacts of bullying. Local schools are taking part in the initiative Feb. 24.

Morinville Public School Vice Principal Shannon Chabot said pink shirts were purchased for the school’s entire staff to be part of that day, and that students will be encouraged to dress in pink to support anti-bullying.

But the day will feature more than donning pink garments. Presentations on bullying will take place throughout the day to remind students of the impact the behaviour has on one another.

“They have a number of presentations planned around bullying, and we also have lessons that we’ll be giving the teachers in every grade so that they have a lesson they can give the students on that day as well,” Chabot said. “That week, we’ll be looking for kids doing great things – doing things that are positive, and rewarding them.”
MPS Principal Wayne Rufiange said the school worked with children on a daily basis about working with peers and students in other grades. Pink Shirt Day gives the school another opportunity to convey the information.

“It’s always nice to have those special times in the year to maybe focus and remind everybody to recharge and bring light to some of those problems,” Rufiange said. “We know kids, just as adults do, have difficulties with relationships, and navigating their emotions and how to decode their interactions with other kids. I think when we can get kids together and show them that they’re all really in it together, it strengthens that community. and when you strengthen the community, then you can help strengthen the individual interactions.”

Bullying a year-round issue

The school realizes bullying occurs throughout the year. As such, the school and Sturgeon School Division have some programs geared towards building relationships and general mental health.

“Bullying comes up year round,” Chabot said. “I think educating students on the difference between rude and having a student be mean to you, and what true bullying is – I think it’s important to educate students around that.”

As a former school counsellor, Chabot worked with students in small groups on anxiety, social skill building, and anger. The new counsellor will expand that to working with students whose families are going through a divorce, and the Division holds Boy and Girl group sessions with Rebecca Balanko on developing positive self-imagery.

Programs help bigger mental health picture

Another program the school is involved in is Hats On For Awareness, a weeklong initiative that raises awareness of mental health and mental illness issues. Students wear different hats, and the school provide some activities related to mental health.

The Division also uses the Neurosequential Model in Education (NME). “It’s a new project our school has undertaken,” Chabot said. “It gives students a chance to understand really how their brains work, and it follows a lot of rhythmic patterns and getting kids to learn how to self-regulate.”

Principal Rufiange said the project has been a journey for Sturgeon School Division – and something he has been involved in for the past five years. “As we’re looking at kids and the real complex cases with children that have perhaps suffered a trauma in their life, really how do we look at that?” he said. “How do we bring development and how do we support those kids? If children have suffered trauma where they may look like their 12-year-olds, but because of that trauma they are functioning more at a seven- or eight-year-old, even in their academics. They could be an honour student when they are 13 or 14 years old, but socially they might still be six or seven years old. That saying – act your age – sometimes kids can’t. Their brain is not developed.”

Rufiange said teachers can differentiate through their academics, but it is more challenging through the social skills side.

The principal said the school was also mindful of working with students that may have anxiety. “Some kids may have trouble coming into our building. While a typical resting heart beat is 60 and 90 beats per minute. They may look like they’re calm and collected, but their heartbeat might be going at 130 beats per minute,” Rufiange said. “We have heart rate monitors at the school, and we’ve seen that at the school.”

The principal went on to say, teachers are aware and work with those students to help them be self-aware and find ways to calm their anxieties.

Through the NME project, Rufiange has directed teachers to have three body breaks per school day, body movement and breathing exercises to help students maximize their learning.

“It’s all about just preparing kids and helping them focus,” he said.

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