Well-being teams care for Westisle students

Strengthening mental health services -

Every Monday morning, a five-person team meets at Hernewood Intermediate School. They have different areas of expertise – a mental health therapist, two nurses and two school outreach workers – but they have a shared goal: to help students overcome their challenges outside of class so they can perform better in school.

The student well-being team is one of the teams of professionals now on the ground in the Westisle family of schools. Whether it’s to make sure they get to classes or helping them improve their self confidence the teams have been busy with more than 60 students in the first two months of the school year. They’ve also given presentations to all of the schools in their area on the services they offer.

“We are here to meet a need,” says mental health counselor and team leader Lorna Hutt.

Every team member has deep roots in the Western communities. They know the families and the students.

“With my public health background, I’ve been working with some of these kids since they were born -- so trust is essential,” said team member public health nurse Bethany MacIsaac. “We are all very experienced – it’s a big strength of our team.”

MacIsaac said school staff have welcomed the team with a sigh of relief. “There are a lot of students with a lot of needs,” she explained.

One of the most common issues the team sees is anxiety. With education and awareness, they can help students learn coping strategies like breathing, progressive relaxation, and mindfulness techniques to help normalize their feelings. 

She teaches the students to sit with the anxiety and ask themselves “what does it feel like?”

“They are then drawing on skills and abilities they don’t know they have,” she said. “Anxiety levels go up and down through the day. When they learn this, they can then think ‘oh, I’m not the only one, there isn’t something wrong with me.’”

Outreach worker and community hockey coach Cory Snow has been helping to make sure students get to where they need to be and building close relationships

“We have to make sure kids don’t fall through the cracks,” he explained. “When they know and trust you, they come to you when they need you.”

“There are a lot of students with a lot of needs and issues in classrooms that are preventing learning from happening. It’s so rewarding when they start to turn the corner - successful endings keep you going.”

Teachers and administrators have reported improvements with some of students - things like more smiles and interaction in class.

Hernewood principal Patti Sweet is excited to have the wellness team based out of the school.

“They weave around school so there is no stigma,” she said.

Lorna Hutt, the team’s mental health counselor, said they have been at school breakfast programs, waiting at the bus stop during arrivals and departures, and just being around the school’s corridors.

“We are making an effort to get out there so they see us,” she said.

The multi-year project is just beginning. Besides Westisle, a student well-being team is now in place in the Montague family of schools. Others will follow in all school families over the next two years.

The very positive start in the Westisle family makes Snow believe there will be great success Island-wide. “It’s going to be really special,” he said. “In the long term you’re going to see it.”

Student well-being teams work in schools advising, consulting and providing direct service to children and youth who are struggling with mental, social and physical health issues. Learn more about the Student Well Being Teams.

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