Teaching kids about mental health and emotional well-being is one of the most important things we can do in preparing them to navigate the ups and downs of life. Pear Tree School is one of Vancouver’s schools prioritizing topics of mental health for their students and recruiting the Crisis Centre’s Self-Care for Mental Health Workshop to help.
Part of the school’s teaching philosophy is to combine different subjects into themes, relate them to real-world issues, and present the theme topics to students in modules. During the “Local Crisis” theme, one of the modules was about mental health. The students were encouraged to reflect on their own experiences while being aware of the challenges other people in the city are facing.
After the module ended, the teachers heard from the students a desire to learn more about mental health topics.
“So many students are struggling to some degree and they’re trying to figure out how to regulate and manage and cope,” said Katelyn Jmaeff, Pear Tree School’s Grade 7/8 Teacher. “We need to equip them with skills, create a space to share, and make sure they know that they’re not alone.”
The school invited different speakers, including the Crisis Centre’s Self Care for Mental Health Workshop volunteers, to have dialogues with the kids about mental health. “The project made us see how many great organizations there are in Vancouver and that there are community members that want to support the students,” said Jordyn Garinger, Pear Tree School’s Grade 5/6 Teacher.
The Self-Care for Mental Health Workshop introduces the kids to the continuum of mental health. The workshop helps students to discuss topics such as what mental health is, how to take care of it, and why boundaries and limits are important. By the end of the workshop, each student has their own personalized “self-care plan” that includes the available support resources.
“The volunteers were personable and willing to share their stories, which made the kids feel comfortable talking about mental health,” reflected Garinger. “They created a safe space through their positivity, friendliness, and openness.”
According to the teachers and the students themselves, the workshop made a significant impact by working with the kids through complex topics. “The Crisis Centre did a great job of bringing in the topic of suicide; we can’t shy away from it,” said Garinger. “We need to teach kids what signs to look for and where they can go for support, but ideally we need to help them know how to deal with their mental health and how to help their friends too.”
The students also enjoyed the discussion about what self-care means, how it can be different for everyone, and how it can change over time. One of the Grade 5 students, Ethan, said his biggest takeaway from the workshop was “how there are so many ways to help with your mental health and caring for yourself!”
To help the kids process everything they had learned in a creative way, the students had a chance to create ceramic sculptures based on a mental health topic of their choosing and display them at a local art gallery, Visual Space.
“The students were initially very modest about the project – ‘our work in a gallery?’ – but then they became involved in the planning of the exhibition as time went on,” said Garinger. The school invited a group from the Crisis Centre’s Community Learning and Engagement team, including the volunteers who lead the workshop with the students, to the exhibit.
The exhibition was packed with students, families, and teachers, each student standing proudly beside their work. The sculptures were abstract, giving the students a chance to incorporate complex meanings into their art and share them with the visitors. “They felt proud that their voices were being heard and that they could be open about talking about good mental health and struggles,” said Garinger.
“I felt so hopeful hearing the students talking about these topics with such awareness and enthusiasm; it’s so great to see the positive impacts of mental health education,” says Lana Konopljova, Crisis Centre’s Youth Program Coordinator. “It means we are setting a healthy knowledge foundation for the kids and normalizing talking and caring about mental health.”
The school plans to incorporate mental health and soft skills as core components of education. Garinger and Jmaeff said they are committed to continuing check-ins and open dialogues with the students about mental health and making sure they know about the resources available to them. “It’s like learning a new language,” said Jmaeff. “We all need to understand what the terms mean and have tangible actions we can do to help ourselves and others.”
The students took some time to reflect on some of their biggest takeaways and most memorable moments from the workshop and art project:
Evan (Grade 6): “My biggest takeaway from the Crisis Centre Workshop is that if you have mental health struggles there is always help”.
Jacob (Grade 6): “The amount of people who have mental health issues that don’t tell people was my biggest takeaway because if someone does share their mental health issues it’s a very big deal for them and some people don’t think it’s hard at all but it is.”
Ethan (Grade 5): “How there’re are so many ways to help with your mental health and caring for yourself!”
Heidi (Grade 7): “My biggest takeaway from the self care workshop was that it’s really important to take care of yourself. You need to make sure you take care of yourself or worse things could happen. I really liked showing my mum all the work I did, it makes me proud seeing the finished product. I liked learning more about mental health, how we can help, etc. My biggest take away from the module was that you can’t always tell when someone is struggling with their mental health. You don’t always see what really goes on. Your not inside their brain you can never know what they are thinking even if they have a smile on their face.”
If you are interested in bringing the Self-Care for Mental Health Workshop to your school, please complete the workshop request form.
This single-session 70 to 90-minute workshop is offered for youth in grades 6 to 12, and is free for schools and organizations within BC. In-person workshops are available in Vancouver, Burnaby and North Vancouver.