Staff and students from Niagara Catholic District School Board secondary schools participated in the first NCDSB Youth Wellness Summit. The student conference was initiated by youth, who felt mental health was important to discuss. Student council representatives engaged students in their schools to determine the topics that would be of interest and this feedback was used to design the Summit.
The Director of Education for the NCDSB launched the day with greetings along with an overview of some key mental health messages, and the Superintendent responsible for Mental Health hosted the event. The Board’s Mental Health team – including the Mental Health Lead, Social Workers, Child and Youth Workers and Board Consultants – helped to facilitate the day, along with Public Health nurses.
Events began with spoken-word poet Britta B, who blends key messages with poetry and hip-hop. Britta is an arts educator and leadership specialist and shared her own personal obstacles while reinforcing the importance of self-worth and hope. Her theme for students focused on wellness and resiliency.
Following Britta B was Girl Pow-R, an all-girl pop-rock group made up of students between the ages of 10 and 16. Each member actively participates in a social cause, with those of the attending members being mental health, youth homelessness and children’s hospitals. Girl Pow-R sang four uplifting songs, with a focus on mental wellness.
After the performances, students attended two breakout sessions. In the first breakout session, students learned about mindfulness, and hands-on strategies that they could use in their day-to-day lives. In the second session, students learned how to have difficult and courageous conversations with their peers, and how to actively involve caring adults when necessary.
Following lunch, Jack.org led an interactive session. Jack.org focuses on peer-to-peer encouragement in mental health, by building and supporting student leadership to share stories and experiences. Secondary students shared stories of initiatives that had been previously created, with concrete examples of how to make these ideas function at the school level.
Participants then met with their school’s Child and Youth Worker and Public Health Nurse to discuss mental health initiatives in their schools. Students were encouraged to think about the connections between the topics at the Summit, and shared their ideas. They were then given funding to bring these ideas to life back at their schools.
Students showed a lot of enthusiasm and excitement to begin their school initiatives.