Being a student can lead to learning challenges — but emotional and personal problems can also develop.
The Vernon School District is one of several in BC to provide support for mental health issues.
Doug Cameron is one of two behaviour specialists who work at local elementary schools.
He says emotional regulation and anxiety are the two most common issues he helps students with.
“A lot of it is skill building and confidence building. Some students have the skills but using then in new situations can be challenging, so we provide them with emotionally safe opportunities to really practice these skills,” Cameron tells Kiss FM. “It’s the same as with reading, writing or math, any academic skills, we only get better at emotional regulation or dealing with our anxiety when we use them in guided situations.”
Photo: Natashia Bacchus and Doug Cameron, Elementary Behaviour Specialists with School District 22
Cameron, who works at Mission Hill, Ellison, Alexis Park and Harwood elementary schools, says sometimes he meets with just one student or he can also conduct activities in small groups.
He says anxiety is very common especially with students at the primary ages.
“It’s incredibly prevalent right now, both males and females, any age, we’re really seeing anxiety the last number of years creeping in at all ages, starting with kids even in kindergarten and grade 1. It’s their first time away from their caregivers and they’re experiencing a lot of anxiety connected with that.”
Cameron says the school will talk to him about a student who has been having difficulties or he will work in classrooms and monitor the student. He will also meet with a student or in small groups for activities.
He says they can track individual students to see what success there has been.
“We track data for students on the success they are having, and then on a larger scale, you can see what’s happening with the culture of the school. You can walk into the schools to get the feeling and vibe of what kind of a culture and climate it has.”
Natashia Bacchus is the District’s other elementary behaviour specialist.
She covers the other elementary schools, more on a referral basis.
The District also has a behaviour specialist for secondary schools, Rana Grace.
Bacchus says they have a number of proactive strategies to help teach kids how to self-regulate and increase their coping and resilience.
“We are also working on school wide programming to increase capacity of schools and teachers in the areas of behaviour and mental health. Some of these strategies include:
The FRIENDS for Life Training Program
-Anxiety and depression are big issues impacting children, with stats showing as high as 1:4 kids struggle with significant levels of distress
-The FRIENDS Program is a school based anxiety prevention program that is aimed at building resilience in children and families by teaching cognitive, emotional and behavioural skills to better equip children to manage their anxieties and worries.
-We now have an in house trainer so were able to provide teacher training for grades K/1; 4/5 and 6/7 this year; having an in house trainer with allow for more consistency and more in district training opportunities for teachers.
“The WITS program provides a school wide approach to preventing peer victimization. We received a grant for $1200 through TJX; the grant covered resources for Beairsto Elementary to launch school wide program. Teacher training is already complete and the school plans to launch the program with a swearing in ceremony that will take place on February 22, 2017.
“Lynn Lyons – Anxiety workshop which is being done via webinar for 6 weeks (2 hours per week). This will allow schools to program for children with anxiety using evidenced based practices and provide a common language between schools and district staff around strategies and interventions.
“Crisis Prevention Institute – this includes both proactive strategies around de-escalation as well as emergency procedures to use when children are a danger to themselves or to others. We have completed one training session this year and in the process of planning for upcoming training opportunities for administrators, teachers, and educational assistants.
“Roots of Empathy – is a program with a mission to build caring, peaceful and civil societies through the development of empathy in children. This program is currently being offered in a number of elementary classrooms in the district.