Students at Southview Community School and across the Medicine Hat Public School Division, take part in the H.U.G. and MyPlace programs which teach resiliency, positivity and kindness.  NEWS PHOTO, KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

By Kendall King , Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Medicine Hat Public School Division is working to promote student mental health through its H.U.G. and MyPlace programs.

The programs, which are two out of 37 in the province, are funded through Alberta Health Services and contracted through the division. H.U.G. works with elementary school students and MyPlace operates in local junior high and high schools.

“We have seven success coaches and they all are spread out throughout our division,” said April Welshman, the program manager for Mental Health Capacity Building Programs in MHPSD, which oversees H.U.G. and MyPlace. 

Welshman explained that educators throughout the division can request the success coaches visit their school or classroom to address issues which have arisen between students, or to build specific skills based on health goals for that school.

“We talk about resiliency skills, social skills, friendship, healthy relationships,” Welshman said. “I think the most important thing is actually learning the definition of (the specific topic) and what it looks like, sounds like and feels like. We give them the definition, we give them examples of what that could be, we do experiential learning … and then our success coaches go out at recess time and do those teachable moments.”

Nov. 15-19 marks this year’s Bullying Awareness Week in Canada. Welshman says their program doesn’t have specific activities planned for the week and instead focuses on year-long learning which targets the root of bullying and aids in prevention.

“I don’t think one week of just talking about bullying is going to suffice,” she said. In the year-long program, success coaches work with students to recognize the difference between bullying, being mean and teasing. They then inform them about what to do if they experience or witness bullying. 

“We want to start prevention and promotion at a very early age so when they grow up, they have those health outcomes throughout their entire lives,” Welshman said.

Welshman, the success coaches and educators throughout the board have seen the positive impact the program has on students. 

“Kids are on the playground singing the songs that we teach. We hear lots of kids say, ‘Is that a small problem or a big problem?’ ‘Is that tattling versus telling?’,” she said. “We’re there on a regular basis throughout the entire year, so we don’t just come in and then leave, we’re there every single week with the kids, teaching them different kinds of topics … We really just want to equip our kids with kindness, showing kindness to others, showing kindness to themselves. We are just working towards having kind individuals.”

This item is reprinted with permission from Medicine Hat News. See article HERE.

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