Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district says more mental wellness supports in schools is a request that is “tops on the list” from students.
At a school district education committee meeting this month, trustees discussed a B.C. Ministry of Education survey of students in grades 4, 7, 10 and 12, as well as parents and staff, dealing with school experiences. Numbers from 2021-22 were used as the current survey closes April 28.
Elementary and high school students had notably different responses about learning how to care for their mental health at school. A majority of Grade 4 students stated they were learning to care for their mental health all or most of the time, as did a majority of Grade 7s. However, a majority of Grade 10s and a majority of Grade 12s responded almost never or never to the same question.
Don Balcombe, SD68 assistant superintendent, said there are two factors that weigh into the lower percentage of students feeling like their mental health needs are not being met, particularly Grade 12s, he said.
“One is older students have a lot more on the go, so their mental health gets impacted in a lot of ways and then two, there’s nowhere in the curriculum where a student would say, ‘When I go to this class, we specifically address the mental health issues that I’m that I’m feeling…’ Balcombe said. “There’s community, family, youth service workers. There’s lots of supports for students, but inside the curriculum itself, there’s not a lot that addresses mental health at the Grade 12 level.”
Also, students were surveyed while COVID-19 restrictions were partially in place, which may have affected the responses, the assistant superintendent said.
“If you think of last year, sports and clubs were not back as fully as they are this year. So there would be activities and things that weren’t in place. Students would have been wearing masks. There were COVID restrictions that definitely weighed in on students’ mental wellness, for sure,” said Balcombe.
He also said the district has supports in place to help with well-being, something that students are asking for.
“Our secondary school counselling is the place where most students go for low-level, ‘How am I feeling?’ and ‘How’s my wellness checked?,’” said Balcombe. “We have community, youth, family support workers who are there as well and then, of course, there’s lots of outside agencies that also provide services. There’s the wellness centre at [Nanaimo Aquatic Centre] and the wellness centre at John Barsby. There’s the mobile health services van at the other schools.”
An overwhelming majority of all students also said they feel safe at school, with 77-78 per cent of all pupils surveyed responding in the positive.
The surveys varied in length. Grade 4s answered a 57-question survey, Grade 7s had 72 questions, while Grade 10s and 12s had 81 questions. The district told the News Bulletin it had a 76 per cent participation rate; the provincial rate was 65 per cent.
In an e-mail, Jeremy Inscho, Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association president, said he doesn’t have much to say about the surveys, as there have been past concerns that they were written in a way not allowing for responses critical of the education system.