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 Jamie Pettit
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From: Monday, June 27, 2016 1:52 PM -0400
Subject:Bluewater Schools Achieve Ophea’s Healthy Schools Certification
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Two schools in Bluewater District School Board have achieved silver in Ophea’s Healthy Schools Certification for the 2015 - 2016 school year!  Saugeen District Secondary School in Port Elgin and Hanover’s John Diefenbaker Senior School join the ranks of 107 certified schools across Ontario that have garnered enough points to qualify.   

The Ophea (Ontario Physical and Health Education Association) Healthy Schools approach engages the whole school community to promote and enhance the health and well-being of youth, staff and the broader community.  The certification is based on the 6-Step Healthy Schools Process, which guides the school through the steps needed to plan and implement a range of activities that promote well-being in the school community, focusing on a selected priority health topic that is important to the school.  Through a points-based system, over the course of the school year, the school plans their Healthy Schools Process steps online and applies to be certified as a bronze, silver or gold Healthy School.

This year, a group of senior students at Saugeen District Secondary School selected ‘mental health’ as their priority health topic.  It is estimated that 10 – 20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder with the onset often occurring during adolescence.  As a goal, the group hoped to increase awareness of mental health and wellness through a number of initiatives, such as: providing training in mental health first aid to interested students; introducing youth to healthy coping strategies to help manage stress; empowering youth by giving them a voice to identify issues in the school relating to their well-being; and connecting youth to resources and adult allies with mental health training.

The highlight of the group's initiatives was the Student Voice Forum held at the Bluewater Outdoor Education Centre (BOEC) on April 8th.  Students from grades 9-12, representing a number of different peer groups within the school, were invited to participate in the full day event.  During the morning, students took part in a number of activities intended to increase communication and break down any social barriers.  Following a healthy lunch, an open forum allowed students to select from a variety of discussions to engage in on important issues such as racism, homophobia, stress-management and its impact on their mental health, and others.  All discussions were documented, thus providing information for the Healthy School's team to analyze/synthesize upon their return to the school for the purpose of creating a summary of the main thoughts from the day.  Members of the team have begun to share the information with various stakeholders, including school administration, Parent Council, the Safe School Committee, board staff and trustees.  A date has been set in September for students to return to the BOEC to create an action plan for implementing the changes they feel are important for their own wellness and that of their Saugeen District peers during the 2016 – 2017 school year.

Meanwhile at John Diefenbaker Senior School, ‘mental health’ was also the focus with a number of activities organized over the course of the school year.  For example, a full school assembly was held to introduce several community partners and outline their roles in supporting mental health.  Representation included Keystone Child, Youth & Family Services, WES for Youth Online, Canadian Mental Health Association Grey Bruce, CHOICES Drug & Alcohol Counselling for Youth, among others.  The school was also visited prior to exams by human and canine representatives of the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program, who gave out free fruit smoothies at lunch time to help lower stress and anxiety levels in the student population.  Other initiatives included inviting a certified yoga instructor to conduct a number of noon hour sessions to alleviate stress in both the students and staff, and organizing a Walk With Wes For Youth Mental Health, which raised $589.  As part of the latter, students had the opportunity to walk a couple of laps of the track and then enjoy a healthy snack.

Congratulations and kudos are extended to students and staff at both schools for this past year’s efforts, which have earned them silver in Ophea’s Healthy Schools Certification!  

Image of Saugeen District Secondary School students engaged in a winter tug-of-warGroup photo image of Saugeen District Secondary School students enjoying the outdoors in winter
 Group photo image of 3 John Diefenbaker Senior School staff holding up their silver certification recognition from Ophea Image of St. John Ambulance representatives and therapy dogs in the John Diefenbaker Senior School gym