A program that has been running in the Clearview Public Schools division for a decade helps to promote mental health in children so they will do well in school.
Penny Warford, Mental Health Program Co-ordinator for CARS program (Children and Adolescents Resilient and Self-regulating), says the best way to describe it is prevention, and promotion of mental health.
“We need to look after social emotional health for kids to learn. This is really the best way to reach the most kids — is to access them in the schools. This is when we can probably have the biggest preventative impact,” said Warford, who is based in Stettler and a registered social worker.
CARS is part of Alberta Health Services’ Mental Health Capacity Building in Schools initiative. While it’s funded by AHS, the school district administers it.
It not only aims to promote mental health in children and youth, but also in families and support individuals in the community who interact with young people.
The program has one full time and two part-time mental health success coaches. Recently Kelsey Bissett was hired as the full-time coach covering a one-year leave of absence. They do a lot of work with groups, around such subjects as grief, social skills, anger management, coping skills, dealing with feelings, and a lot of classroom presentations as well, said Warford.
There are 37 such projects in 85 communities and 182 schools, with an outreach to 74 additional schools, throughout Alberta.
While mental health issues over the decades may be similar, the one thing that is different today is the social media factor, Warford said.
It changes the social atmosphere, and makes the world more global. There are positives and negatives, she said, adding that whatever is happening, with social media it is happening all the time, and there aren’t as many breaks, whether it’s from social, academic or any other aspects of life.
CARS helps with school and mental wellness by promoting resiliency — overcoming challenges and “bouncing back, and self-regulation — learning skills to help stay calmly focused to get through the ups and downs of life.
It’s about being able to “manage and cope with not everything being easy because not everything is easy,” she said.
Warford believes students today understand the importance of mental health. “It’s not just eating healthy and exercising, those basic physical needs. Our brain and our body are connected. I say that probably several times a week.”
With Mental Health Week coming up from May 1 to 7, a number of additional activities are planned in Clearview and East Central Catholic Schools.
During the week, some of CARS activities will include “Chalk About It”, where students write positive mental health messages on sidewalks, and a free matinee on May 5 at the Jewel Theatre, showing the movie Inside Out.