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March 04, 2021

#BeWell: Social-Emotional Health at Ottawa Catholic School Board during COVID-19

by Manon Séguin, Superintendent Special Education and Student Services and Dr. Richard Bolduc, C. Psych, Mental Health Lead, Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB)
At the Ottawa Catholic School Board, #BeWell is one of our three strategic commitments. Since the beginning of COVID-19, #BeWell has taken on even more significance. Our commitment to #BeWell compels us to bring hope to our students, so our primary mental health focus as we enter 2021 is to take an active, involved approach to wellness during the pandemic.

Easing the burden of ‘perfect’

It is important to begin the new year without the pressure of setting resolutions and “must do’s” which are traditionally so popular. Creating unrealistic resolutions based on unaccomplished goals from the previous year and high expectations for the new year adds more stress and anxiety, especially during this already difficult time. 
Our approach aligns with Ottawa Public Health’s recent tweet, “Perfect is cancelled until further notice.

Unrealistic resolutions add a burden on students and families. Ultimately, perfectionism in a pandemic appears to have more power to disappoint individuals. Let’s leave perfection at the doorstep for now!

What matters more

Resolutions are replaced by prioritizing time to model and promote self-care, creating connections, nurturing relationships, and extending empathy. Mental health and wellbeing for students can be enhanced by parents and educators who model positive behaviours and coping strategies for youth.
At OCSB, we focus on strategies that serve students who participate in both in-person and remote learning. Based on what we continue to learn from this pandemic, we are seeing that patience, flexibility, and resilience are key strategies for all.

Resources to support student mental health

We are highlighting step-by-step strategies and routines, which provide a renewed sense of hope, in all our classroom lessons. Recently, School Mental Health Ontario launched the Student Mental Health Action Kit, which includes links, resources and downloadable files on health and coping strategies to help youth strengthen relationships, promote dialogue, and encourage the importance of self-care. The  techniques and resources available in the kit help students recognize mental health concerns and give educators and students strategies for early intervention.
Examples of some of the student resources available from the Student Mental Health Action Kit.

Caring and kindness help build resiliency

During the winter months, a main theme is to focus on caring and kindness. This reminds our educators, youth and parents of the importance of relationships. Providing caring support and listening to one another has proven to be effective to prevent and reduce feelings of unfulfilled or demanding expectations.
Our goal is to empower students with resiliency skills in their classrooms and homes. Encouraging students to name emotions and discuss wellness techniques they can include in their everyday routines are key elements of our ongoing wellbeing strategy. The Stress Management & Coping Virtual Field Trips in the Student Mental Health Action Kit are powerful and effective tools to achieve better well-being.

Spring is on the way!

Principals and educators continue to meet virtually to decide on the best mental health strategies they can apply that are suited to the cultures of their respective schools. Despite ongoing changes to stay-at-home orders and other difficulties due to the continuing pandemic, our optimism is fueled by the days getting longer and the knowledge that spring will arrive. More daylight gives us a sense of hope in the middle of winter.
As educators and students learn to cope with the stress associated with the demands of face-to-face or online learning, it is still important that parents and educators recognize the difficulties that have been overcome by students in these trying times. We included a message of hope to all students in their term report cards: “… our children and youth have demonstrated unparalleled efforts to alter and adapt. It is important that we recognize their abilities to have surmounted these unique societal obstacles and appreciate their efforts of persisting academically in a time of pandemic.”
Grades 7 – 12 student feedback, OCSB stress coping groups

Stress coping groups are currently offered to OCSB students in Grades 7 to 12, allowing them to connect virtually, improve their understanding of their perceptions and experiences, and find effective strategies to better cope when necessary. These sessions, led by OCSB’s mental health workers and psychologists, are proving to be extremely popular with students.

Resources for parents

Ottawa Public Health’s Parenting in Ottawa website, the Youth Services 24/7 Crisis Line, and Kids Help Phone provide resources to support parents. We also encourage parents to contact their principals if they have concerns. Parents may also contact Counselling Connect or School Mental Health Ontario for free mental health services.
School mental health resources are available to all educators, staff, and families. Screencastify-formatted recordings of the Student Mental Health Action Kit are provided to our educators in both French and English. 

What’s next?

Our Spring 2021 theme will be about perseverance in the face of new COVID-19 realities while keeping in mind the everyday importance of well-being.
We are preparing for long-term impacts of the pandemic and are collaborating on solutions. #BeWell initiatives are bringing hope to our students, educators and families. Our efforts today are supporting students now and will last into their adulthood, where the resiliency strategies they are learning will serve them well no matter what the post-COVID future holds!
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