Healthy Living in the North

Social and emotional well-being at school: The Bulkey Valley School District supports mental wellness in the classroom

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Summer 2018 edition on Healthy Schools. Read the full issue here.)
Co-authored by Stacie Weich, regional lead for mental wellness & prevention of substance harms, and Taylar Endean, past regional nursing lead for healthy schools.

Children interacting at school.

Social and emotional health in youth is associated with higher academic performance, positive mental health experiences, and better life outcomes. Everyone benefits when we incorporate mental health promotion, prevention, and early identification into schools! Collaborative, sustainable, and informed work in this area will help everyone prioritize wellness in every classroom.

B.C. is making strides towards enhancing the curriculum to reflect and grow social and emotional health, and has introduced a new program that includes social and emotional core competencies. The Bulkley Valley (School District 54) has found an excellent and innovative way to meet that goal: they have hired a Social Emotional Helping Teacher (SEHT).

This teacher driven support begins with a teacher reaching out to the SEHT asking for help. The SEHT meets with the classroom teacher for a planning session on embedding well-being into the curriculum, rather than individual, one-off lessons. They work with teachers and students in collaboration, planning and implementation of the new social emotional curriculum requirements into the classroom. This is done is various ways and is driven by the individual classroom. The SEHT assists in incorporating personal and social responsibility into everyday school activities in different subjects such as Language Arts, Science, Music, Art classes and fields trips. This is done through various methods such as storytelling, identifying personal heroes, bringing music and crafts to seniors homes, caring for the environment, personalized drawings/colouring to identify self-awareness, stressors and stress management.

The WellAhead graphic.

 The SEHT attends 3-4 sessions with the teacher and co-teaches with them, building their capacity, confidence, and skills in these topics!

This resource offers a huge support to the teachers and school staff, and encompasses the Comprehensive School Health Framework. Due to increasing demand, this program has grown from a two to four day per week position!

Moving forward, the Bulkley Valley District and Northern Health have teamed up to engage in a coaching grant opportunity secured through the WellAhead – McConnell Foundation. WellAhead is a national initiative focused on integrating social and emotional well-being into young people’s education for long term change. The McConnell Foundation is a private Canadian foundation that develops and applies innovative approaches to social, cultural, economic, and environmental challenges. Together, these programs connect health and education with expertise and tools that help build plans to enhance the wellness in our region. Granting opportunities can be found on the McConnell Foundation website.

What is your school doing to support social and emotional well-being for the students, teachers and staff? Mental health is truly everyone’s business, so take some time to think about how your school environment is promoting these kinds of wellness. After all, we’re all responsible for ensuring that school is a safe, fun, and healthy environment for all.

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

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Healthy School Fundraisers: A win-win for schools and families!

With the new school year beginning, back-to-school fundraising season will soon be underway. Whether it’s to purchase new equipment or pay for a trip, fundraisers are a reality of school life.

How do you feel about school fundraisers? Based on my conversations with parents and teachers, responses run the gamut from enthusiasm and pride to disapproval and dread. While fundraisers can be a great way to enrich students’ learning experiences, there are also some concerns. Many fundraisers rely on the sales of highly processed, less nutritious foods such as chocolate bars and cookies. This sends confusing messages to kids and is at odds with many individuals’ and schools’ goals around healthy eating.

So how do we fundraise for our schools while honouring our commitment to creating healthy school environments? Fundraisers can be a great opportunity to promote healthy eating while raising money at the same time! Many BC schools have found that healthy food and non-food fundraisers can be just as (if not more) profitable.

students sorting produce

The Fresh to You Fundraiser is offered by the BC School Fruit and Vegetable Program. Students sell bundles of seasonal local produce and make a guaranteed 40% profit. Win-win!

Here are a few creative fundraising ideas that have worked well in other schools:

  • Healthier bake sales
  • School-made cookbooks or calendars
  • Art walks featuring student or other local artwork
  • Healthy community dinners
  • Seedling sales – try growing them in your own classroom!
  • Christmas family portraits

Here’s another great idea: students selling bundles of seasonal and local fruits and vegetables to friends and family, while making a guaranteed 40% profit. I’m talking about the Fresh to You Fundraiser offered by the BC School Fruit and Vegetable Program! Last year I bought a bundle from a friend’s daughter who was doing the fundraiser in Terrace. I got a variety of local produce, all while supporting students and BC farmers. It’s a win-win!

Does this sound like something your school might be interested in trying? For more information, as well as recipes featuring products from the bundles, visit the Fresh to You Fundraiser website. Online applications for this year’s Fresh to You Fundraiser will be accepted until September 22, 2018.

Show your commitment to creating healthy school spaces by being the next school fundraiser champion! For healthier fundraiser ideas, tips and recipes, consider checking out the following resources:

Has your school planned a healthy school fundraiser? How did it go? Get others inspired and share your success stories in the comments below.

 

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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Healthy schools matter

Once again the summer has whizzed by and it’s time to think about the new school year! Hopefully you enjoyed a healthy, happy summer and had a chance to share what wellness means to you.

A couple weeks ago, Emilia shared information about school nutrition but there is so much more to healthy schools! A healthy school is one that creates a healthy setting for learning, playing, and working. Students have opportunities in all parts of their school experience to develop healthy habits, including physical, mental, social and intellectual.

Comprehensive School Health

Northern Health has adopted the internationally recognized Comprehensive School Health framework that is promoted provincially by Healthy Schools BC. In this approach, it is not just about what happens in the classroom; it involves the whole school environment, addressing four interrelated areas of focus:

  • Social and Physical Environment
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Partnerships and Services
  • Healthy School Policy

When the school’s actions are coordinated across these areas, the impact on student health and learning is so much greater. Here are some benefits of this flexible and adaptable approach:

  • Better health & well-being for students, educators & staff
  • Increased feelings of support from school
  • Improved behaviours and healthy choices at home & in the community
  • Increased understanding of connections between curriculum and real life

Healthy Schools in Action

Think this all sounds complicated? Here are some examples of schools across the north that are leveraging grants to fund some great health related projects that show Comprehensive School Health in action.

Chetwynd

The Chetwynd Social Planning Society partnered with the Moberly Lake after school program to provide opportunities for children to learn drumming.

Valemount

The Valemount Elementary School Parent Advisory Council (PAC) purchased snowshoes for students to borrow so they can get outside for fresh air, sunshine, and exercise.

Skidegate

The Sk’aadgaa Naay Elementary School in Skidegate purchased needed supplies & equipment for teaching students to grow and preserve food.

These are just a few great examples! Many northern schools have shared their success stories with Healthy Schools BC. Visit Healthy Schools BC for more stories about healthy schools in our region!

 

Heather Ouellette

About Heather Ouellette

Heather is a Registered Nurse currently working in Population Health as the Regional Nursing Lead, Healthy Schools. Past work experiences include Public Health and teaching nursing at UNBC and in a previous life in Edmonton, home care and acute care nursing. When not outside adventuring with her friends and dogs, she likes to play in her garden during summer and sew quilts and garments in winter.

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What can you do to support safe and inclusive school environments for children with food allergies?

The lunch bell rings and Johnny enthusiastically starts to eat his tuna salad sandwich, apple, cookie, and milk. As he is chatting with his friends, he suddenly starts to feel sick. His mouth feels itchy and his tummy starts to hurt. Johnny finds his teacher and tells her he is not feeling well. His teacher is aware that Johnny has a food allergy and recognizes the signs of a serious allergic reaction. She gives him life-saving medication and calls 9-1-1.

Students in classroom

Creating allergy-aware schools is everyone’s job! Students, parents, and schools all have a role to play!

May is Allergy Awareness Month: it’s a great time to talk about how we can create safe and inclusive environments for children with food allergies so they may safely eat, learn, and play.

In Canada, approximately 300,000 children have food allergies. The most common food allergens are eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, sesame, seafood, wheat, and sulphites. Anaphylaxis is the most serious type of allergic reaction and can be deadly if untreated.

As a dietitian who has supported families with an allergic child, I understand that keeping your child safe at school can seem like a daunting task. I have also come to understand that prevention is not enough. While some schools will ask parents not to send foods with certain allergens like peanuts to classrooms, it is important that students and schools have the knowledge and skills to respond to allergic emergencies appropriately. Creating allergy-aware schools is everyone’s job!

What can schools do?

All school boards are required to develop an allergy-aware policy as well as an individual anaphylaxis emergency plan for each student with a serious allergy. In addition, schools can:

  • Work with parents to develop realistic prevention strategies. For example, some schools have “allergy-aware” eating areas while other schools have specific rules about allergens in the classroom.
  • Support ongoing training for all staff including teachers, bus drivers, and food service staff.
  • Consider non-food items for some class and school celebrations.
  • Take steps to ensure students with allergies are not bullied or left out.
  • Raise awareness about food allergies in the classroom, at school assemblies, or consider running a school-wide allergy awareness challenge.

What can parents and caregivers of children with allergies do?

  • Inform your school about your child’s allergy.
  • Provide your school with epinephrine auto-injectors, if needed.
  • Plan ahead for field trips and special events.
  • Teach your child how to protect themselves and reduce risk of exposure.
  • Read food labels carefully every time you shop and be aware of cross-contamination.
  • Guide your child as they learn to take on more responsibility for managing their allergy.

What can children with allergies do?

  • Wash hands with soap and water before and after eating.
  • Do not share food, utensils, or containers.
  • Be careful with food prepared by others.
  • Carry an epinephrine auto-injector at all times (by age 6 or 7 children are usually mature enough to do so).
  • Tell your friends about your allergies and what they should do in an allergic emergency.
  • Tell an adult as soon as you suspect an accidental exposure to an allergen.

Looking for more information about food allergies at school?

Here are a few of my top picks for resources and tools for parents, caregivers, or anyone working in and with schools:

Looking for personalized support? HealthLink BC’s Allergy Nutrition Service provides support to families who have concerns and question around food allergies. Just dial 8-1-1 and ask to speak with a registered dietitian.

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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Community skating project scores in Telegraph Creek!

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


Outdoor ice rink

Various community partners came together to make skating accessible for students and families in Telegraph Creek.

What do you get when you take a revitalized outdoor skating rink, invested and engaged community partners, new equipment, and a community of children, youth, and families looking for recreational opportunities to enjoy during the long, cold winter? You get a Community Skating Project that benefits the entire community!

Last spring, the principal of the Tahltan School, located in Telegraph Creek, applied for an IMAGINE Community Grant to support the school’s interest in providing skating equipment and activities for the students that would also be accessible and inclusive for the entire school community. The original plan for the project was to get the gear and skate on the local lake and, through a partnership with the Tahltan Band, to offer a few trips to the nearest indoor rink, located 112 km away in Dease Lake.

Fortunately for the staff, students, and families of Telegraph Creek, an unexpected and welcome partnership along the way with the local RCMP made this community initiative even more successful than the original plan! The RCMP staff took on the task of putting in ice at the local outdoor ice rink in Telegraph Creek and maintaining it throughout the season so that all could access and enjoy the rink! They even offered a celebration day once the ice was ready where they gave out free hot chocolate and snacks for everyone.

The positive impact of having outdoor recreation was amazing to witness. The rink was mainly enjoyed by the youth, and in a community where there are limited recreational opportunities, it was rewarding to see them having so much fun.- Mark Van Wieringen, First Nations policing constable

Aerial shot of ice rink

Once the weather cooperated in Telegraph Creek, a beautiful outdoor rink took shape and provided a winter recreation option in the community.

The great success of the new project also came with some challenges that are not unique to our northern communities:

One challenge was weather: not having a usable ice rink until the weather was cold enough and then it became too cold! There were plans in place to get a school bus for our school that we could use for trips to skate in Dease Lake but unfortunately that bus was delayed, which made it difficult to organize a trip. We were lucky that the RCMP staff were able to make ice on the outdoor rink this year. -Nancy Danuser, vice principal, Tahltan School

Families skating on outdoor rink

With support from the local RCMP detachment, families in Telegraph Creek got to enjoy a community celebration and an outdoor ice rink!

Through community partnerships, some flexibility, and a bit of seed funding, fantastic project ideas can be realized and last in the community for years to come:

The IMAGINE grant has made it possible for children without skates to participate… it has allowed us to support other community events like the Winter Carnival by lending skates to those who need them. -Nancy Danuser

What can you do to improve the health of your community and who can you partner with to make it happen? Submit your IMAGINE grant application today!


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. At the time of this story’s publication, the deadline for the next cycle of IMAGINE Community Grants is March 31, 2017.

Mandy Levesque

About Mandy Levesque

Mandy Levesque is Northern Health’s Lead, Healthy Community Development, Integrated Community Granting. Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Mandy and her family moved to Prince George in 2013. Mandy has a background in public health and health promotion and is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. She is passionate about innovation and quality, empowering northern populations, and promoting health and wellness across communities. In her spare time, Mandy enjoys spending time with her family and stays active by taking in the exciting activities, trails, and events northern B.C. has to offer.

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Teachers! Don’t just blow smoke – Cut through the smoke screen!

Outside of school building with sign that says "Student Drop Off Ahead"

With kids back in school, teachers are uniquely placed to prevent smoking amongst youth. Reg shares some great tips for teachers!

While the prospect of youth starting to smoke is concerning, there’s some great news from the 2012-13 Youth Smoking Survey. The percentage of Canadian youth who currently smoke and the percentage of youth in British Columbia who have ever tried a cigarette have both declined.

Unfortunately, some youth will start using tobacco. Teachers play an important role in educating students about the harmful effects of tobacco use.

If you’re a teacher, when you talk about tobacco, remember the following:

  • Start talking about tobacco early in the school year. Don’t wait until it becomes a problem on the school grounds before addressing it. Ensure that your school has a clear policy on tobacco and that it’s clearly communicated.
  • Speak to your students as intelligent people who can make good decisions. Don’t speak down to them or try to intimidate them into not using tobacco – rather than starting a genuine conversation around tobacco, this is more likely to create barriers.
  • Don’t make assumptions about how much your students know about tobacco. Most students are likely aware that tobacco is harmful, but might underestimate the health risks or long-term consequences of tobacco use. Be creative and engage your students in exploring the harms of tobacco use. Use a biology class to look at what using tobacco does to the body. Explore other alternatives for dealing with things like peer pressure or stress as part of a social studies class.

According to the Youth Smoking Survey, the average age a young person tries a cigarette is 13.6 years old. As a teacher, you are at the right place and in the right time to address it!

Reg Wulff

About Reg Wulff

Reg is a licensing officer with Northern Health and has his BA in Health Science. Previously, he worked as a Recreation Therapist with Mental Health and Addictions Services in Terrace as well as a Regional Tobacco Reduction Coordinator. Originally from Revelstoke, Reg enjoys the outdoor activities that Terrace offers, like mountain biking and fishing. Reg also likes playing hockey, working out, and creative writing. He is married and has two sons and believes strongly in a work/life balance as family time is important to him.

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