Mental Health Capacity Building initiative at St. John School sees success in first year of pilot project

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald (L to R) Regan Jacobson and Kara Quirion presented to the Prince Albert Catholic School Division board on Monday about the MHCB initiative at St. John Community School.

Staff at St. John Community School in Prince Albert say they’re pleased with the results of a Mental Health Capacity Building (MHCB) pilot project that began there last year.

Members of the Prince Albert Catholic School Division received an update about the program at their regular meeting on Monday.

The pilot program will run for three more years. There are multiple Saskatchewan schools taking part in the program, but St. John is the only elementary school.

“I think credit really goes to the staff and students of St. John School who have really worked with our Mental Health Capacity Building Promotor,” PA Catholic School Division education director Lorel Trumier said. “They’re working together to make things better for the students there.

“I know that this team of people in our school division are leaders. You can see it by the way they presented last night that they have the children’s best interests in mind and they really want to build capacity across not just a few grades, but all grades,” she added.

A delegation including Superintendent Charity Dmytruk, Wellness Coordinator Regan Jacobson and Wellness Promotor Kara Quinion gave their thoughts on the program at Monday’s meeting.

The MHCB initiative focuses on prevention, health promotion, early identification and intervention by helping youth better manage their feelings and find help if they become overwhelmed.

The MHCB pilot started at St. John Community School in September, 2022. The initiative operates 12 months a year and focuses on community outreach in the summer.

Quirion is the Wellness Promoter and Jacobson is the Wellness Coordinator. Jacobson is shared between the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division and Catholic Division and also works out of PACI.

Jacobson and Quirion are responsible for delivering mental health promotion and prevention programming, building capacity in other staff and supporting students by connecting them to community resources.

“We’re pretty proud of the work that’s happening with the mental health capacity building in an elementary (school),” Trumier said. “Like Charity (Dmytruk) shared (Monday), it’s not common across this province to have these projects. There are only ten of them occurring in the province, and we’ve got one of them. We also are unique in that it’s serving elementary students.”

The student regulation strategy at the school includes five steps. These included Mindful Moments, classroom check-ins, a reset station, direction to school supports and outside supports for students by administration.

“She (Quirion) talked about the morning check-ins and it just takes a special person to do those morning check-ins,” Trumier said,

The students are taught to understand their emotions in colour-coded zones. The green zone means everything is well, the blue zone means to begin monitoring, the yellow zone means that there may be a problem and the red zone is the emergency zone.

The reset station is in each classroom and is a regulation bin with tools to help students regulate and reset. If that does not work, they are encouraged to talk to a teacher.

Each classroom is also provided with toolkits. These include emergency numbers, mental health literacy and language, named emotions and strategies. The toolkits have colour-coded pages to match each of the zones and include guidance for each colour.

“What’s exciting about that is we’ll be able to bring more elementary students into the fold on some of these strategies because our Promoter is going to start working to support the same kind of strategies in other schools,” Trumier said.

Trumier said the program started at St. John but would gradually spread out the supports in the division.

“We’re looking forward to having her bring some of the strategies she has been successful with at St. John and try to have that grow in our other schools across our system,” she said.

Quirion was previously employed in the school and that gave the program an advantage.

“Kara is amazing,” Trumier said. “You can see with her kind nature how children and staff would really would want to work with her.”