RVS Stepping Stones to Mental Health project may lose funding
By: Allison Chorney
| Posted: Thursday, Jan 16, 2014 12:38 pm
Rocky View Schools’ (RVS) Stepping Stones to Mental Health may lose its funding in June. The program is a mental health capacity-building project that promotes positive mental health and wellness in students and is funded through grants from Alberta Health Services (AHS).
“What (Stepping Stones) is doing for our kids is really, really important,” said Board Chair Colleen Munro at the Jan. 9, board of trustees meeting, adding the board will send a letter to the Province to encourage continued funding for the project.
Stepping Stones is one of 37 provincial mental health capacity-building projects and is led by AHS in partnership with Alberta Education.
The program provides students with one-on-one access to success coaches, mental health education and referrals to various mental health resources.
The project, which is in its sixth year at RVS, initially received a three-year funding grant that was then renewed and extended for another six years.
The extended grant will come to an end in June.
“Somehow we have to transition so these services are still available in the schools if funding doesn’t continue,” Trustee Helen Clease said.
However, the board is seeking continued support for the project from Alberta Health and will send a carbon copy of the letter from Munro to Minister of Education Jeff Johnson as well.
Neetz said no timeline has been given by AHS to hear if funding for the project will continue,
“Everyone on the planet has mental health, so to learn at a young age to care for yourself and to become a healthy, productive member of society is so important,” Neetz said.
Alberta Education states on its website: enhanced academic achievement and school attendance, increased academic confidence and engagement, decreased oppositional behaviour, reduced high-risk behaviours such as tobacco use, increased involvement in physical activities, and enhanced respect for diversity and individual differences as some of the positive effects of mental health approaches and practice in schools.
Through AHS grant funding Stepping Stones provided success coaches at Bert Church High School and George McDougall High School in Airdrie, and Chestermere High School. Students at other RVS schools can also be referred to these coaches and the resources they offer.
“Stepping Stones has provided programming, support, education and consultation into 14 schools in Rocky View Schools,” said Stepping Stone Project Coordinator Jodi Neetz.
She said from July 2013 to December 2013 the program reported providing access to 51 programs and had been in contact with more than 13,860 students, parents and staff.
She said in a random survey conducted earlier this month students were asked if they felt Stepping Stones was important to have in the school and 80 per cent of Bert Church High School respondents and 75 per cent of Chestermere High School respondents reported it was.
The project includes three success coaches, one in each of the three participating school, access to on-site support and mentorship, access to an addictions counsellor and a cultural diversity specialist.
Schools refer students to the Stepping Stones team, who then work with them to access the mental health resources they require.
“Really, we’re the only school in Alberta that has that much support in the schools,” said RVS Lead Psychologist Chris Pawluk, adding the majority of referrals are received for students in Grade 8 and 9.
He said statistics indicate 10 to 20 per cent of Canadian youth are affected by some form of mental illness or disorder and the country’s suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world. He said suicide was one of the leading causes of death in youth ages 15 to 24 years old in Canada, second only to accidents.
“One of the priorities moving forward is the funding that may or may not end in June,” Pawluk said.
Pawluk and Neetz were at the Jan. 9, board of trustees meeting to receive Exemplary Practice recognition from the board for the Stepping Stones to Mental Health project.