At Kenora Catholic District School Board (KCDSB), we have focused on parent engagement and building the capacity of parents to support children’s well-being. We are committed to this because we know that our schools are stronger when parents are involved.
The Ministry of Education website states that: “Students are more likely to be motivated, to earn higher grades, to have better behaviour and social skills, and to continue their education to a higher level when their parents are actively engaged in supporting their success at school.”
With this in mind, the KCDSB mental health team asked parents what skills they felt they needed so that they could address their child’s needs when it came to mental health and well-being. We approached parents through school principals and school councils.
The emerging themes led our district to sponsor parent information nights, in partnership with other community services providers.
Our first parent information night was designed to help families with online literacy and safety. We provided the session in partnership with the Ontario Provincial Police, the KCDSB mental health team as well as the Mental Health and Addictions Program of the Lake of the Woods District Hospital.
We know that the Internet offers opportunities as well as threats for our students and their families. At this presentation, parents were able to learn more about the safe use of the Internet, apps to avoid, the risks of sharing digital images, cyberbullying, gaming and online addiction or overuse.
In our second parent information session, the focus was on mindfulness for parents and children. Again this was done in partnership with the mental health and addictions program of the Lake of the Woods District Hospital, the KCDSB mental health team as well as the school council at St. Louis School.
St. Louis School serves students in Junior Kindergarten to Grade 6 who live in rural areas near Kenora and Keewatin. The school’s council spearheaded the evening, having successfully applied for a Parents Reaching Out grant for the event.
The event introduced parents to mindfulness and provided them with tools they could use with their children. The children were able to learn and use the same strategies, and even received a mindfulness kit to take home.
For our third parent information session, we focused on the number one mental health concern identified in all of our schools and by most of our teachers, principals and parents: anxiety.
This presentation was broken into two separate evenings – one for elementary-aged students and one for secondary-aged students. This was offered in partnership with Sick Kids via videoconference with Dr. MacLachlin; to support this, Firefly graciously provided us with the space and the use of their telemedicine equipment.
Parents learned about the various types of anxiety and ways to support a child struggling with anxiety. This was by far our most well-attended parent information night.
To learn more about the needs of our parent community, we conducted a random survey in fall 2015 of parents who had attended an information night. We asked them what they would like to learn more about with KCDSB in the future.
An alarming number of parents really wanted an information session to explore healthy eating on a budget. Getting fresh, affordable produce in Kenora can be a challenge, especially during winters in northwestern Ontario. As a result, the KCDSB, Northwestern Ontario Health Unit as well as a local Dietician connected to our family health team will host a parent night on this topic in the new year.
As a district, we recognize that when parents, schools and local service providers work together, we can all promote a culture and community of positive mental health and resilience. Having local service providers at our parent information nights has also introduced parents to some of the amazing programs that are available in our community.
We look forward to providing additional parent information nights based on the needs and interests that arise in our community.