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How do you calm your nerves when you’re only 9 years old?
Gledhill Public School decided to ask, as part of a new Ontario focus on student mental health. The Toronto school had classes from kindergarten to Grade 6 create murals for an unusual public information evening to be held there Wednesday on the topic of mental health.
“Do ‘tychee’ when you’re stressed — it helps.”
“Relax and ‘chlax.’”
The murals are part of a broader push by this east-end school in the Woodbine and Danforth Ave. area to lift the hush around mental health and connect students and families with help they may not even know is available.
“The reality is, even in Grades 3, 4, 5 we do see children with stress, with gender issues and violence issues, and in Grade 5 and 6 some have issues around texting and sexting, so the need for mental health supports can be great,” said Gledhill vice-principal Vincent Spadaro, whose school is planning several stress workshops for parents this year, plus a number of programs for students.
“Some families are in distress, other parents may be working two or three jobs and kids are dropped off at school from 7 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m., so we need to help kids learn how to calm themselves, and help parents get the supports they need.”
The board has launched a sweeping mental health campaign that includes training teachers to recognize signs of anxiety, creating spaces where kids can feel safe and giving parents a crash course in resources.
“We often think of anxiety in terms of high school students, but if parents get the tools early — before middle school, even — they’ll know where to turn later,” said Gledhill kindergarten teacher Lynn D’Souza.
Parent Karen Ingham runs the school breakfast program and sees children with all levels of need, “and as parents, we can only fly so far by the seat of our pants. Sometimes it helps to have professionals to bounce ideas off, which is why I applaud a mental health information night at elementary school.”
The Healthy Families, Healthy Communities open house, Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m., includes a free workshop on stress by a public health nurse, a dance and movement session with a theatre group and information tables about agencies that can help: from Kids Help Phone to youth mental health agencies, boys and girls clubs, a free parenting program, police community outreach and even the St. John Ambulance therapy dog program.