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March 08, 2021

Students Mentoring Students at Algoma DSB

by Fran Walsh, Communications Officer, Algoma District School Board

ADSB’s Rebound North Mentorship Program leverages a unique partnership with Algoma Family Services to support student social-emotional health

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has had a significant impact on families throughout the country. The pandemic has left many students, families and communities feeling emotionally overwhelmed, disconnected and isolated, while closures have created financial hardship for many. As a school board, Algoma District School Board (ADSB) recognizes that families face these realities and students are apt to bring mental health challenges into the school community. 
 
Students are sharing how the pandemic and the changes associated with it have impacted them with our staff. Some are experiencing a lack of motivation. Others are finding it difficult to engage with teachers and classmates online. Students miss their friends and their “normal” routines. For many, there is a sense of uncertainty of what the future holds.

A Team Approach to Student Mental Health

Algoma District School Board has been working hard to support students and caregivers experiencing these challenges in hopes of optimizing student learning during very uncertain times. 
 
The ADSB Well-Being Leadership Team is spearheading many supports and resources. They meet once a month virtually to discuss the important issues impacting well-being within ADSB schools. This committee includes senior administrators, student trustees, parent representatives, and ADSB leads including our Mental Health Lead, Indigenous Lead, Safe Schools Lead, and our Well-Being Special Assignment Teacher.
Student senators from across ADSB recently met with Board leads to discuss mental health and well-being in schools.

At a recent meeting with ADSB leads, student senators brought forward a list of thought-provoking questions collected from students throughout the district. Students wanted to have a better understanding of mental-health resources available to them and where to access them. They wanted to know how they, as students, could play a more active role in mental health issues, whether that was being mindful of their own well-being or supporting a friend or classmate’s mental health. 

ADSB and Algoma Family Services: Partnering to serve youth

One way ADSB is encouraging students to play an active role in mental health issues is through the Rebound North Mentorship Program, a partnership between ADSB and Algoma Family Services (AFS). Found throughout Ontario, the Rebound Mentorship program is a leader in the field of prevention and early intervention services for youth and is committed to helping young people develop skills that allow them to make sound decisions, set goals, and develop a sense of personal responsibility. 
 
ADSB is particularly proud of the uniquely engaging way we are offering this program to our students. Whereas in other communities Rebound’s life skills mentoring is provided by adult table coaches, in our innovative adaptation ADSB senior students in Grades 11 and 12 apply to become student mentors. They are trained to work alongside AFS program facilitators with students in Grades 7 and 8 to help them practise coping strategies, increase self-control, and develop problem-solving skills. For this, they earn a full course credit (a University “Open” credit). Youth meet once a week for 10 weeks. Sessions focus on everything from learning to manage peer pressure to enhancing social skills and self-confidence.
Senior students, trained to work alongside program facilitators from Algoma Family Services, are working directly with Grades 7 and 8 students virtually this year.

Often intermediate students admire or look up to senior students, so these senior student mentors are in a unique position to make a positive impact at an important time in a 12 or 13-year-old’s life.
 
Rebound is a place for talking, sharing and doing. Mentors may use guest speakers, video clips, supportive group activities, discussions, or role playing to ensure that each participant fully understands and is able to apply the skills they are learning in their everyday life. 
 
Over our four-year involvement with AFS and Rebound North, ADSB has been able to offer the program at three of our Grades 7-12 schools. This year, with the transition to online, our Grade 12 mentors and AFS facilitators are working directly with students using virtual technology.

Linking to the SEL Curriculum

We have modified the program to fit into the core curriculum related to social-emotional learning skills. Geography is no longer a barrier to service. Eligible classrooms can be anywhere in our district and so can our mentors – a great demonstration of how we can adapt our programming to meet our new pandemic challenges. 

Over the past year, we have all had to demonstrate exceptional resiliency, especially our students. Mental health and well-being are core values of Algoma District School Board and, as such, we will continue to find ways to support the mental health of our students. In addition to expanding and strengthening our internal school board resources, we continue to develop unique partnerships with community agencies and external service providers to offer mental health supports for our students, both inside and outside of our schools, helping us to fulfill our mission to develop “Confident Learners, Caring Citizens.” 
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