Engaging Partners to Engage Youth: The RNAO Project at Toronto Catholic DSB

Monday, January 23, 2017

Part of a series on the Youth Mental Health and Addiction Champion Initiative (YMHAC)

By Patricia Marra-Stapleton, M.Sc., C. Psych. Assoc., TCDSB Mental Health Leader

Group of people standing for a camera shotIn the spring of 2014, TCDSB was approached by SMH ASSIST and RNAO to enter unchartered waters by developing a partnership to support youth engagement and raise awareness of mental health and addictions.

The opportunity sounded ambitious and intriguing! TCDSB was among six school boards being considered to pilot the development and implementation of a youth mental health awareness and engagement project called Youth Mental health and Addictions Champions. Public Health agencies and school boards would work with the RNAO to develop something relevant by students, for students ages 12-24. I was “in.”

The road was not always an easy one to navigate. Involving boards of education, Public Health Units and the RNAO brought many interests and demands at the table. We needed to learn each other’s “language” so we could create something meaningful and beneficial for youth.

Group of people holding up a banner that reads "Stop The Stigma"Despite some speed bumps, such as the necessary step of satisfying legal departments, the work of the youth involved was top rate. Essentially, youth co-created a framework for other schools/school boards to use when developing local mental health awareness and anti-stigma initiatives. The framework included preparation, recruitment, learning parameters and activities – a reflection of the youth involved.


At TCDSB, we had already developed a local “Stop the Stigma“ initiative with a strong presence in our secondary schools. The Youth Mental Health and Addictions Champions project allowed our board to grow our success into the elementary panel.

People standing to make heart shapeWe included two elementary schools in the pilot program. The following year (2015-16) we grew and added nine schools. We will expand to nine more schools in 2016-17! This would not have been possible without the partnership with RNAO and Public Health.

Through this partnership, our board became engaged with valuable partners. This partnership helped propel student engagement for mental health further than we could have imagined.

I learned that when opportunity knocks, it is always a good idea to respond!