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Friday, 18 November 2016 08:00

$60,000 grant to help improve mental health supports

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Sonya Brown, health promotion co-ordinator with South Zone AHS, speaks to the Prairie Rose School Division board of trustees about mental health programs in schools at the Nov. 8 meeting. Sonya Brown, health promotion co-ordinator with South Zone AHS, speaks to the Prairie Rose School Division board of trustees about mental health programs in schools at the Nov. 8 meeting. Southern Alberta Newspapers photo by Charles Lefebvre

Officials with the Prairie Rose School Division are celebrating after learning they will share in $60,000 in grant funding to improve mental health initiatives in the southeast corner.

Sonya Brown, health promotions co-ordinator for Alberta Health Services South Zone who works with PRSD, attended the Nov. 8 regular meeting to discuss the grant funding and how it will be used.
She explained in the spring after the Moving and Choosing advisory meeting, participants recognized there is a need for mental health supports in the school divisions in southeast Alberta.
“It seemed to be a hot topic,” said Brown. “The schools were not feeling as supported when it comes to mental health.”
Through the Wellness Grant Fund, there was an opportunity to apply for a cross-jurisdictional grant of up to $60,000. The Mental Health Literacy project the southeast corner officials applied for was successful and the full grant amount of $60,000 has been awarded. That funding will be split between the four school jurisdictions: Prairie Rose, Medicine Hat Public, Medicine Hat Catholic and Grasslands Public Schools with each one receiving $15,000. It needs to be spent by the end of 2018.
Brown said funding will be used to provide two different types of training to educators and those working in schools. One of those training programs is called Go-To Educators.
“It’s to train individuals in schools (who) naturally students go to for guidance,” she explained.
One or two individuals from each school in Prairie Rose will be offered the training which is actually free. The grant funding helps pay for the costs of substitute teaching.
“We’re going to make sure every school can participate, including the (Hutterite) colonies, regardless of the number of students,” added Brown.
With the Go-To-Educator training, the people trained are not meant to diagnose students who may have mental health issues. Instead they better learn to recognize the student may have some issues and then refer the student to the appropriate services. The trainer will learn how to respond and feel more comfortable assisting students.
“It provides the teacher with the ability to understand the differences between having a bad day and suffering from mental illness,” she adds.
“It also provides ongoing support and resources to that teacher.”
The other training is called the Mental Health Curriculum Guide and is geared for junior-high and high-school students. It helps those being trained understand more about mental disorders, brain injury, teen behaviours, healthy sleep, self-image and self-harm.
“It’s more preventative. It provides interactive sessions to promote dialogue between students and teachers,” said Brown in a telephone interview after the meeting.
Superintendent Brian Andjelic said this project is a beneficial place to start in terms of increasing mental health supports because of the available training and resources that go along with it.
“The strength of this is it’s resource-based,” he added. “The resources are tremendous.”
Those resources centre around preventative measures and creating awareness.
“It’s a strong fit with our model around overall holistic wellness.”
Andjelic also said he believes this helps fill in gaps in plan to try to address overall wellness, which is one of PRSD’s “wildly important goals.”
Brown agreed providing this training will help connect the dots in improving overall wellness.
“We have a lot to discuss with principals before we have a plan,” pointed out Andjelic. “Today we have an announcement ... There is tonnes of interest in this program right around the province.”

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor