A day of learning and activities was an opportunity for students and staff at Aden Bowman Collegiate to further the conversation around mental health and provide students with information to support their well-being.
The collegiate's Mental Health Expo held Oct. 23 is part of the ongoing work being done at the school to respond to stress, anxiety and wellness concerns of students both in and out of the classroom and provide students with tools to help them cope.
"The goal in creating our Mental Health Expo was to make it clear to students that it is OK to talk about mental health and that Aden Bowman is a safe place to have this conversation," said staff organizers Joelle Krysak and Rick Bowes. "Our motto, Aden Bowman Talks Mental Health, demonstrates that mental health impacts everybody and is just as important as physical health. We are already having these conversations in our health, science and wellness classrooms and we have stared an anxiety group at school to help our students."
The day-long event included information sessions presented by community partners, agencies and experts on topics including resilience, mindfulness, selfcare, anxiety, the impact of social media, alcohol and drug abuse, and more. Wellness sessions allowed students to experience healthy activities ranging from yoga and photography to running and baking as ways to support their mental health and well-being.
This year's expo builds upon a half-day event held in 2018. Feedback from students, support from the community and school division and an increasing need among the student body were behind the decision to expand to a full day and add the wellness portion to help students explore different experiences available in the community.
Students in Grades 10-12 were able choose their own sessions and organizers noticed that students were more engaged because they were choosing sessions related to their experiences. The response was positive and students identified that having choice was a major factor in their engagement.
"There is not one type of teenager and not one type of pathway towards positive mental health, therefore the diversity of our day matched the diversity of our student body," Bowes said. "Sessions were created based on feedback from students last year who wanted specific sessions to help them explore their mental health. They were also created based on feedback from our staff who know our students very well and understand the mental health needs based on the amount of time that they spend with them during the school year."
While the expo focused specific attention to the topic, Krysak said Aden Bowman staff and the school community is committed to supporting students' well-being.
"Our administrators, teachers and counseling team are always encouraging students to have a voice about their mental health and feel safe to share their journey in our school," she said. "The open conversations that teachers are having in their classrooms are intended to make students understand that they are not alone and that it is part of the culture at Aden Bowman to talk openly about mental health."
The support from community presenters and the parents who embraced the intent of the day played a big role in the event's success, organizers said. An evening event for parents with speaker Connie Jakab shared ways in which parents can communicate openly with teenagers about issues in their lives.
Well-being and working with students to help them develop the skills to make healthy choices is a key piece in Saskatoon Public Schools' new strategic plan. The ongoing commitment of Aden Bowman's administration and staff is one illustration of how schools are responding to student need.
"At Aden Bowman, we understand that our students are complex and that we need to do more than teach them the curriculum in order to help them become happy, productive members of society," Bowes said. "Providing support for student's mental health needs has become one of the most important aspects of our job as we see more and more students struggle every day. As teachers, we have been indirectly responding to the strategic plan by working hard to form positive relationships with our students so they feel safe at Aden Bowman."
Organizers say dedicating a full day of learning to the Mental Health Expo sends a message to the entire school community that the mental health of students is a priority. The expo helped teachers understand the challenges some students experience every day and provided information that teachers can use in their classrooms.
"We want to help equip each student with information about mental health and supports that are accessible in our community, so they know how to take care of themselves," Krysak said. "This directly relates to the strategic plan of our school division and is one of the most important things that we feel we can do to support our students.
"This will help strengthen the relationship that we as teachers have with our students because the students recognize that we truly care about them as a person as opposed to only caring about the marks they get in our classes."