Shalem has been seeking to support elementary schools in a way that mirrors the developmental stage and needs of the students. This need for mental health support has been echoed by many elementary schools as the prevalence of mental health challenges becomes increasingly evident within this population.
Similarly, acknowledging and identifying mental health needs early on has increasingly been seen as essential due to the positive impact of early identification on one’s long term wellness. CAPS (Counselling Assistance Program for Students) school support for high school and university settings has taken off with Shalem’s CAPS program and so branching out into the elementary sector is a natural transition.
Planning for a pilot project began in the fall of 2019 in an effort to provide a trial and gain insights into how to do this well. The pilot project had the privilege of working with community partners, Edvance, Cairn Christian School leaders, and Child and Youth Care specialist Marge Kloet.
The pilot project took place from January to April 2020 at Cairn Christian Elementary School, Stoney Creek Campus. Under the supervision of Marg Smit-Vandezande, Marge Kloet provided mental health supports as an intern for her Master’s-degree program at the School of Child and Youth Care, Ryerson University.
The pilot project had a positive impact in the elementary school as relationships were built and as mental health awareness was increased among students, parents, caregivers, teachers and staff. The support happened at various levels within the school system. Here are some highlights:
- In-services for teachers, touching on topics such as “What does mental health look like in the classroom?” and on learning about programs such as Zones of Regulation and the benefits of implementing this in their class.
- Classroom instruction on emotions and emotional wellness to add to the social-emotional concepts that are already being brought into their classrooms via Responsive Classrooms.
- Individual counselling support was provided for students as well as ‘in the moment support coaching’. Parents and caregivers were also provided support and were a key element in the support provided for their child.
- A whole-school mental health awareness initiative was implemented in an effort to decrease stigma and increase awareness as a school community. Friendship week was a hit with many classes demonstrating unique acts of kindness for each other.
- Restorative practice sessions for the senior grades, provided by Shalem, were a positive addition for the school and furthered the already strong restorative culture present within this school community.
While there were many actionable items that were initiated, at the base of it all was the concept of developing relationships and understanding. Doing so in an intentional way allows for mental health challenges to be addressed, safe spaces to be formed and reconciliation to be experienced.
Elementary school leadership continues to identify the need for such supports in the classrooms and the students openly receive it, often looking for it without knowing that this is what they were needing.
Marge Kloet completed her internship with Shalem Mental Health Network CAPS program.