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Alberta expands mental health and learning support in schools

Alberta is doubling its efforts to ensure students’ mental health is supported.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange announced Wednesday more funding for mental health and learning supports in schools. (Photo by Government of Alberta)

Alberta is doubling its efforts to ensure students’ mental health is supported.

Alberta Education announced Wednesday they would double funding to $40 million to support mental health pilots in schools.

“We are aware that as students continue to recover from learning disruptions, additional mental health supports are needed to ensure each individual is able to move forward and reach their fullest potential within the school system,” said Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Education.

“This investment ensures that students across Alberta have adequate access to mental health resources and supports, which will result in a better chance of participating in meaningful learning and relationship building. Additionally, targeted programming for early elementary learners will support the objective of maintaining on-track development, which may have been previously lost due to interferences in school.”

The $40 million is an extension of provisional funding from last year, Alberta Education said in a release.

In 2021-22, school authorities received $45 million to help students in grades 1-3 catch up from the pandemic. These students regained an average of five to eight months of literacy and numeracy development. This year’s funding will go towards the same students, who are now in grades 2-4.

Sarah Hoffman, Alberta NDP Critic for Education said the funding announcement is small gesture.

“The funding announcement (Wednesday) is a drop in the bucket when you consider that over the past two years the UCP chose to underspend $1 billion from their education budget,” she said.

“Students, staff and families need support now. That’s why the Alberta NDP has been calling on the UCP government to place a mental health professional in each and every school.”

The province noted that the investments over the next two years would support close to 60 mental health pilot projects to improve K-12 students’ well-being. The Alberta Government is also providing school authorities with $10 million this year to help struggling students get back on track after the pandemic.

“Students deserve to feel supported and have access to mental health supports as they complete their K-12 studies,” said Nicholas Milliken, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction.

“Through our province’s recovery-oriented system of care, we are taking action to improve the mental health of children and youth and make a difference in their lives.”

The projects will explore new and innovative approaches to providing supports and services including counselling, social and emotional learning, student assessment and training for school staff. The goal is to drive local solutions while gathering information to inform a broader approach to supporting students across the province.

Examples of the kinds of activities being piloted include:

Having a registered psychiatric nurse, a teacher with additional training in supporting mental health and behaviour, and a social worker readily available to classrooms;

Appointing a mental health navigator to become a point person for families seeking mental health information, supports or resources.

Giving students time and space to regulate, with the help of certified staff, when they are having difficulty managing their feelings.

An open and competitive call for mental health pilot proposals ran from July 12 to Sept. 15. These pilot projects are in addition to Alberta’s recent investment of $42 million over three years to improve access to mental health supports in schools and develop an integrated school-based services model, establishing CASA mental health classroom teams and expanding the Integrated School Support Program.