Recognizing that student success is more than good grades
Educational success is an important predictor of mental and physical health over our lifetime. While we are students, being academically successful is correlated positively with behaviours which promote physical and mental health and inversely with a range of risky behaviours. Also, students who feel a high level of connectedness to, or engagement with school obtain better grades and engage in less risky behaviour than those not so connected. Thus, initiatives by school systems to increase students’ academic success and engagement with school will have the byproduct of better mental and physical health for their students. Fortunately for students in Ontario, schools, school boards and the Ministry of Education have created and expanded programs with exactly these goals.
The Student Success/Learning to 18 initiative is in its fourth year and has exciting objectives. Each student is regarded as an individual with unique interests, goals and strengths. Each is given the same opportunity to succeed in high school and success is broadly defined. Ontario hopes to transform the high school experience through this strategy, which has several key components:
Some aspects of this program are focused on making the curriculum more relevant to the diverse student population. These include allowing two credits to be obtained in co-op placements where students develop employment-related skills through on-the-job learning and building bridges between the curriculum and their life plans. In addition, a dual credit option is available in some boards of education where students can take postsecondary (college) courses which count towards their high school graduation and can later be included for their postsecondary degree, diploma or apprenticeship certification.
Another innovation available to many Ontario students is the high-skills major where students will have the opportunity to take up to 12 courses in areas such as tourism, construction, manufacturing, hospitality, primary industries or arts and culture. These specialist groupings are intended to appeal to students’ interests/strengths or to fields where employment is strong in the community. These changes represent a notable increase in the variety and clarity of pathways from high school to the world of work or post-secondary education.
Other aspects of the Student Success/Learning to 18 initiative are more relevant to fostering good mental health, as they are intended to change the ethos of the schools. In fact, the aim is to create:
Several components of the Student Success/Learning to 18 initiative are focused on these characteristics. All high schools now have student success teams comprised of the principal, a guidance counselor and a student success teacher or teachers. These teams identify and support struggling students, provide more options for learning, and monitor student progress. Throughout the province, these student success teams are working to make our high schools places where students feel they belong, are supported and will succeed. As part of this process, dozens of Lighthouse projects have been developed and implemented across the province. These Lighthouse projects help students who need extra support and attention stay in school, accumulate needed credits, take programs linked to colleges, and encourage youth who have left school to return. Overall, these initiatives have provided much more support and many alternatives for students who were becoming disengaged from school.
A final exciting initiative launched in 2006 is the Grade 8-9 Transition Program. This program recognizes that the transition from Grade 8 to Grade 9 is difficult for students and is a time of high risk for disengaging from school. School boards have been required to develop programs to facilitate the transition for all students. Also, students judged to be at risk by their Grade 8 teachers are assigned a caring adult to help ease the transition and to help them navigate their way through high school. The program permits more attention and support from teachers and will track the progress of students during the high school years.
The Student Success/Learning to 18 initiative has enjoyed continued support from the provincial government, the Ministry of Education, school boards and schools. Clearly, educators have recognized that many students need additional supports to achieve their potential. The goal for student success extends beyond academic proficiency. Thus, our schools are changing to become much better environments to promote and sustain good mental health in our youth. It is also the case that educators recognize that the needs of our diverse student population are such that they cannot optimize outcomes for youth without collaboration from parents, community agencies and communities themselves. As educators bring about these essential changes in our schools, we must work together to make our children and youth as successful as they can be.
Dr. Bruce Ferguson
Do you have a topic to suggest for Focal Point? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grants and Awards Index
The Centre is pleased to announce the launch of its online Grants and Awards Index. This tool allows researchers, service providers and decision makers access to information about more than 200 current and completed projects funded through our grants and awards program. The index features convenient search categories – including region, researcher, type of grant, sector and keyword – to make it easy to find exactly what they’re looking for. In addition, each record includes a printable one-page summary of the project.
Upcoming deadlines for the grants and awards program …
For more information on 2007-2008 grants and awards, please visit our Web site at www.excellenceforchildandyouth.ca.
Online health and mental health education resource for schools and community groups
“k, so i dont know what is wrong with me and i dont know where else to turn…”
This opens one of the thousands of questions submitted to YooMagazine.net by youth. YooMagazine is an interactive health literacy program designed for young people, parents and teachers. The goal of the program is to provide young people with accurate health and mental health information in a variety of interactive formats (info and how-to sheets, questions and answers, quizzes, magazine articles, etc.) and to improve health and mental health literacy and decision-making. It is free for all schools or community groups and is designed to provide early identification of health and mental health difficulties.
The YooMagazine.net program was developed and is maintained by Dr. Santor and by Dr. Alexa Bagnell, at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, with the contributions of experts across the country. Published in an e-zine format, some of the topics that are ready to go include Fuel Your Body, Under Pressure, Emotional Pain, Bullying, Mental Health, Physical Health, What’s in the Mix and more. Materials are revised on an ongoing basis.
“Mental health plays an important role in most areas of our lives -- physical health, relationships with others, and the development of each person’s unique identity. By addressing mental health issues in the context of other important areas of a young person’s life we may be better able to address some of the stigma associated with mental health difficulties,” continued Dr. Santor.
In addition to providing young people with access to expert health information in a variety of formats, the program administers an annual online health survey that provides participating schools with the capacity to assess student health needs. The survey assesses health and mental health needs as well as academic outcomes, such as the impact of health and mental health problems on motivation for learning. Results are anonymous and specific to each school. When completed annually, the survey can serve as a snapshot of student health needs and emerging trends.
Access to the magazine is restricted to those with a username and password, who have registered through one of the school or community group partners. Schools can tailor the magazine to suit their community needs and develop personalized programs. The sign-in process allows students to receive emails, provides schools with a snapshot of their community and provides a layer of security.
“A tool like this means young people can access information when they feel like it and use as much as they want. When we look at the times most users log on, it’s obvious to us that YooMagazine is filling a need at times when parents and other adults may not be available. We know that they are getting solid information when they visit this website. We also know from our evaluation of this program that young people who use it frequently are more likely to ask for help from other formal and informal sources,” commented Dr. Santor.
YooMagazine also provides information that can be used in the classroom. Online modules are being designed to enhance the effectiveness of existing school-based interventions. The goal of each module is to extend learning beyond the classroom. For each module, there are classroom materials, online interactive leaning modules for young people, and online modules for teachers or facilitators. Classroom materials consist of lesson plans, overheads and handouts on each of the topics. Assistance is provided to schools to adapt the materials to complement their local needs.
To date, YooMagazine is available in 150 schools in four provinces, which means it is now available to about 50,000 young people. Groups in the US, Australia and the UK have also expressed interest.
Bruce Grey partnership makes sense for children, youth and their families
Forging effective partnerships is often easier said than done, but school officials and mental health service providers in one central Ontario region have been making it work for more than ten years.
Working to Reinforce All Partners (WRAP) is a cross-sectoral collaboration aimed at supporting high-needs children and youth at school, at home and in their communities. Partners include Keystone Child, Youth and Family Services (formerly Bruce Grey Children’s Services), Bluewater District School Board and Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board. WRAP was officially launched when the Bruce and Grey County school boards merged in 1999, but staff at all three organizations were working together informally for several years before that.
“WRAP is a process. It’s not content-driven,” says Boyle. “If you’re not working in all three domain areas, the results won’t last.”
According to Boyle, “Working together came naturally to the WRAP partners.” The organizations have always enjoyed strong personal and professional ties and strong cooperative leadership from senior ranks. “We had wonderful relationships with people and we haven’t been fought by the system. It really wasn’t that hard.”
But, that doesn’t mean it was easy. WRAP has faced significant barriers along the way, although, solid commitment from program champions helped it move beyond the hurdles. All changes come with challenges, says Boyle, but in the case of WRAP, the ultimate benefits justified the effort to overcome them.
“You can always find 100 reasons not to do something,” he says, noting the WRAP team has never received dedicated funding for the program. Funds are always limited, but improving service doesn’t always have to cost more. By working together, WRAP partners are able to better help high-needs children and families without breaking the bank.
“We knew it worked, so we just redirected the resources we already had,” he said.
Leaders also managed staff resistance by giving team members ownership of the program. After setting up the basic WRAP structure, Boyle and his colleagues encouraged team members to make the program their own.
“Once we established what we wanted to do, we stayed out of the way,” says Boyle. “We let the workers do it themselves”.
The strategy has not only resulted in better outcomes for children and youth, but for the workers themselves. Staff turnover in the WRAP program is low, and Boyle attributes that stability to the collaborative nature of the program.
“The work is hard, but they don’t leave. They feel like they are part of a team.”
Recent events also indicate WRAP is a sought-after approach in other areas of the country. The Mental Health Commission of Canada has recognized the program’s potential and is sending WRAP representatives to Edmonton to spread the success to a group of mental health and education partners there.
In the coming months, WRAP partners will work to adapt the program for use in secondary schools. A recent pilot project in area high schools showed promising results, but also revealed new challenges that seem to arise in serving older youth.
“We wanted to keep the basic program components while connecting with the numerous school personnel at the secondary level. The real challenge is to navigate the system, which includes but is not limited to vice-principals, guidance, student success, student services and others,” says Boyle. “The task – as always – is to develop integrated plans of service with the right people, in the right place and at the right time.”
The Centre has been an ally to the partners in this important initiative, contributing to its success through consultation over the last few years.
For more information about WRAP, contact Keystone’s Dennis Boyle at email@example.com.
The Child and Youth Mental Health Outcome Indicators Project aims to help us understand and track how well we are addressing the goals of the Ministry of Children and Youth Services policy framework.
To facilitate a collaborative approach to developing these indicators, the Centre convened an Indicators Expert Panel, which included service providers, parents and caregivers, advocates, researchers and policy-makers. Through several rounds of surveys and a panel meeting in Ottawa in late October, the panel narrowed down a list of potential indicators to about 30. These indicators will be assessed on their relevance, usefulness, validity and feasibility in the field. Information on these indicators is currently being prepared for broader input and consultation.For more information please contact the Centre’s Dr. Evangeline Danseco, Research Consultant, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Integration Working Group is developing recommendations for the Centre’s next steps in advancing the integration agenda for child and youth mental health in Ontario. Discussions at the first meeting of this inter-committee group confirmed that integration is still viewed as desirable. Given the fragmented system of today, the group agreed that some form of integration is the best way to provide the right care to the right child or youth at the right time. It sets the stage for better mental health outcomes for children and youth where the quality of care and resulting outcomes are the driving force behind system integration decisions.
This working group considered some preliminary issues and recommendations at its first meeting. Once all members of our four committees have provided feedback on the recommendations, the Centre will set out to determine the logistics of implementing them while consulting the best available evidence of what works in integration. Initial steps may include identifying features of an integrative model, developing common definitions for key elements of integration and selecting appropriate indicators and measures that make sense for parents, carers, children and youth.
The project was launched in early November in four Ottawa-area classrooms. As this initial pilot is evaluated, opportunities for broader implementation will be sought.
In addition to the Centre, local organizations such as the Community Foundation of Ottawa, the Ottawa branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Ottawa School of Art have partnered in this project.