Reconnecting, Renewing and Re-energizing Communities to Support Mental Health in Schools

The Cause

We are requesting $30,000 to reconnect in person with 21 APPLE school communities as a part of a pandemic recovery strategy to support mental health. Reconnecting with the communities in person is a key approach to building strong relationships and understanding how to customize mentorship to ensure that students feel better, move more, and eat healthier, resulting in better mental health, improved academics, leadership abilities, and quality of life.

We want to pay for a school health mentor (SHM) to travel to 21 rural and remote northern Alberta school communities to help build capacity and reconnect communities to our project and each other. We also want to pay for travel costs to bring a school health champion (SHC) from each school to a knowledge exchange event (KE) to increase their competence and confidence in building a healthy community. APPLE Schools does not currently have the funds to support travel, or the planning and hosting of an in-person event in 2023.

Funding will allow these vulnerable schools to benefit from the full scope of the SHM’s support:
Hosting an in-person spring knowledge exchange event.
Sharing best-practice resources.
Hosting in-person spring support meetings.
Providing ongoing expertise to ensure measurable changes in each school community.
Connecting schools with partnerships that can help schools meet their wellness goals.

The SHM has not travelled to school communities for in-person mentorship since fall of 2019; all support has been provided virtually. SHCs have not attended in-person KE events during the same time.

Research has shown that pandemic measures had a negative impact on children’s health behaviours. Children themselves also reported considerable declines in health habits and coped poorly with the changes. Our staff has been using this critical research to guide our implementation to reverse negative health trends. This enhances the need to visit with each community, reinforce connection, positive energy, and kick start ideas for new healthy initiatives that schools can immediately implement to engage vulnerable students.

All SHCs will be invited to a reinvigorating KE event, and depending on the budget, bring a guest from their school to increase their capacity in building a healthy environment. This will be a meaningful opportunity for schools to share concerns, ideas, resources, best-practices and stories with one another and we look forward to the energy that our events inspire.

Who Will it Benefit?

All school staff and students will benefit from reconnecting in-person with the APPLE Schools project as they would receive immediate feedback, tools, information, knowledge and most of all, the excitement and energy about the project that only a human connection can create.

~4,000 students across 21 northern Alberta schools will directly benefit because the SHM’s presence will empower the school staff with information and inspiration to engage all their students in healthy initiatives that will benefit them for life. Most of the students are K-6 as we focus on reaching young children to build healthy habits from an early age.

These schools are rural and remote, and have high Indigenous populations and are considered “vulnerable” by their school districts due to socioeconomic status and other criteria. Support for Indigenous students and families is a priority for APPLE Schools, and within the 21 schools identified for this grant APPLE Schools partners with two band-operated schools and two Métis settlements. In Northern Alberta, all seven APPLE schools in the Northlands School Division have a 95% Indigenous student population.

~700 school staff, including 21 school health champions (SHC) will also directly benefit from an in-person visit from the school health mentor (SHM). SHCs are the bridge between APPLE Schools and their school community, driving healthy initiatives to ensure the school remains a healthy place. They are directly guided by the SHM and benefit from a strong connection to them to reach school health goals. This reconnection would strengthen the collaborative relationship between the SHC and SHM and spark immediate ideas to implement healthy initiatives in their school. The in-person KE event would increase the SHC’s competence and confidence to promote mental health in their school communities, and connect them to other rural communities working on similar initiatives.

This would also benefit the principal in each school, as the SHM would meet with each one to support them in their role as a leader of a healthy community. An in-person meeting would allow the principal to voice any challenges and concerns they might have and receive immediate feedback and solutions from the SHM.

Research from the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta shows that students take their healthy habits home, and influence the healthy choices of their families. As such, ~7,600 family members will indirectly benefit from this reconnection.