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Pembina Hills Elementary Schools Gain Mental Health Programs With PAWS

Two new fun oriented mental health support programs are being implemented within Pembina Hills elementary schools to support social emotional development for students through the PAWS program

Students in Pembina Hills schools are building their mental health capactiy in the classroom, school trustees heard June 19.

Vanessa Lewis, Promoting Activity, Wellness, and Success (PAWS) Program Manager provided trustees with a presentation on their program.

“We are one of 37 mental health capacity building programs within the province of Alberta,” shared Lewis.

PAWS received funding and bought two programs for every elementary school in the Pembina Hills School division for approximately $10,000 to be rolled out in the fall.

The first program is Kimochis, a social emotional learning program, aimed at youngest students, pe-kindergarten to grade 1.

There is a story book that goes with each of the stuffed character animals that addresses feelings, and how to recognize and handle those feelings and support others.

The second program, Little Spot, with a cast of characters with different emotions.

Through the use of books and activities Grade 2,3 and 4 students can help the character work through their emotions. The kids are loving it according to Lewis.

Outside of the new programs, three communities, Swan Hills, Barrhead and Fort Assiniboine are supported by different program services.

Four schools within those communities, Swan Hills School, Fort Assiniboine School, Barrhead Composite High School and Barrhead Outreach School, receive PAWS resources and services.

The program started in Swan Hills in 2007.

“The intention is that it is a community program, not just a school project,” remarked Lewis.

The mandate is prevention and promotion of all thing’s mental health.

Within the Alberta Health Services, Service Model of Care, the PAWS program is classified as a Tier 1 and 2 program.

The program addresses coping skills, conflict resolution, social emotional learning which has been part of the mandate since 2007.

How the program achieves these initiatives has differed.

The program does not provide mental health counseling.

The budget is currently $199,000, with 80% paying for staffing and benefits and 20% program events, professional development, and travel costs explained Lewis.

One uplift of money, $7,000, was received to expand support.

Swan Hills students from pre-school to high school receive age-appropriate universal programming weekly to monthly detailed Lewis.

Targeted programs address specific needs for a specific group of people.

Lewis provided an example, a grade 2 teacher could come and say there is a group of 5 or 6 kids who are having anxious feelings and is concerned.

An evidenced informed program would be chosen to lead with that group of kids to address the identified need.

The program staff makes use of referrals to specialists like the student-family advocate, the school counsellor, an external phycologist or a physician, FCSS offices, the Food Bank, or children services.

Student Check-ins is a regular service where staff build relationships with several students, provide support, and determine if added resources are needed.

Staff Wellness services such as professional development, hosting monthly wellness activities and offering Mental Health First Aid.

Professional development training and support in the Kimochis and Little Spot programs provide staff with tools to support themselves and their students.

Summer Programming provides a variety of activities increasing physical activity, problem solving skills, and building self-esteem camps.

The PAWS specialists partner with FCSS and the town of Swan Hills to provide evening information sessions and monthly lunch and learns.

Sometimes it is hard to get the people who really need the information to attend explained Lewis.

Lewis will be focusing on building up a growth mindset component that has been part of the program and will be a focus in the next year.

The PAWS staff have to have a teacher present when they are delivering materials and information.

The staff cannot provide counselling.


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