At Fort McMurray Public School District (FMPSD) we take the mental and physical health of our students seriously. Call it a promise we keep every day - a promise made to parents and guardians, who trust us with the task of taking care of their children. In fact, our #fmpsdbig3 goals include Healthy Schools as a main priority.
As with many other themes, it’s hard to speak of mental health without mentioning the wildfires. FMPSD went into high gear as schools started last September. Everyone brought their top game to ensure students felt safe, comfortable, and assisted as needed. Shannon Noble, Assistant Superintendent, Inclusive Education, FMPSD, along with a dedicated team led the mental health portfolio following re-entry.
“Students, staff and parents remained our focus even after evacuation. We were thinking re-entry for the FMPSD family even before we had a re-entry date. The Calgary Board of Education provided us with invaluable help, for which we are deeply grateful,” recalls Noble, who has been with the District for five years.
Mental health training for staff began taking place in June. Counsellors went first, then teachers, and support staff.
“We started with the Journey of Hope. School counsellors completed this training to support students showing signs of trauma or anxiety through a targeted group intervention. The initiative makes use of cooperative play, literacy, discussion and art. Students are provided a small-group setting to explore and normalize their emotions. Trained counsellors lead the structured activities, and students are allowed the space and encouragement to develop healthy coping mechanisms and identify internal and external social support systems,” explained Noble.
In addition, Heart Math has been implemented in elementary schools to assist with recognizing and reducing anxiety. It is an online tool that staff and students can identify where their anxiety levels are - then implement strategies to assist with reducing. Some staff have also participated in Psychological First Aide, while school counselors have participated and trained in Mindfulness strategies to be implemented in the New Year.
“Many agencies have stepped up to help us, and we can’t thank them enough. The United Way of Fort McMurray, Red Cross, Save the Children, Alberta Health Services, and Canadian Mental Health Association, are some who have come together to provide supports for our families, training for our staff,” added Noble.
From mental health to physical. All 11 of our elementary schools are APPLE (Alberta Project Promoting active Living and healthy Eating) schools. It is a healthy lifestyle embraced by students, parents and staff alike. From daily physical activity to healthy lunches, so much is implemented in schools on a daily basis. Erin Gates, and Tyler Smith are the District’s APPLE Health Mentors, and explain more.
“APPLE Schools is an innovative school-focused health promotion initiative that improves the lives of more than 16,500 students annually in 63 schools across Northern Alberta through supporting healthy eating, physical activity, and positive mental health behaviours.
The project is guided by the Board of Directors of The APPLE Schools Foundation, which is a registered charitable foundation,” explained Gates, who is also the Christina Gordon Public School Physical Education teacher, and has been with the District for four years.
“Since 2007, APPLE Schools has improved the health and well-being of over 16,500 students in Alberta. Fort McMurray is home to 10 of the original APPLE Schools. The program has continued to grow since 2011 and is expanding into our surrounding communities,” Gates added.
Tyler Smith is the Physical Education teacher for Dr. Clark School. He joined the District in 2012, and notes, APPLE’s mission has been to “inspire and empower school communities to lead, choose, and be healthy by recommending and supporting measureable and sustainable changes.”
“At FMPSD, we promote healthy school environments focusing on mental health and wellness, daily physical activities, and healthy food choices. All schools are supported by District school health mentors. Our mentors work with each school to determine their goals when it comes to promoting healthy school environments. Together, we develop action plans that outline activities and resources the schools need to achieve their goals. We are extremely pleased to be able to offer support across the District and to see the inspiring and innovative ways ALL schools in our District are promoting health,” enthused Smith.
Both Gates and Smith are delighted with student and staff responses to the initiative, which they dub “overwhelmingly positive.”
“It is common place in our FMPSD APPLE schools to hear students, staff, families, businesses and the community using common language when it comes to promoting healthy schools. From the provincial nutrition guidelines our schools follow, to daily physical activity, all school communities are working to promote health in all they do. Many teachers have expressed that by encouraging more physical activity and nutritious snacks throughout the day and at home, students are more prepared to learn during lesson time,” Gates continued.
“Many parents have said that their children are bringing the positive behaviours home and encouraging the whole family to be more active and eat healthy. School wide health challenges, Healthy Family Fun nights and informative healthy behaviour school displays have all contributed to families being more aware of the importance of proper nutrition, being mentally healthy and being physically active on academic success,” Smith added.
Angela Foss, Healthy Schools Champion for Westview Public School agrees. At her school, parents are active participants in fostering a healthy environment.
“Our parents are running a breakfast cafe from 7:30-8:10 in the morning. Here they serve most often foods such as muffins, juice, milk and fruit. The moms get together and bake items for the cafe as they run low. Our attendance in the morning can run from 20-45 kids,” explained Foss, who also teaches Physical Education and grade four.
Shabana Rahman, Vice Principal, Fort McMurray Islamic School (FMIS) notes, “our aim is to develop health promotion and improve the lives of our students in regards to healthy eating, physical activity, and mental health.”
“Our mission is to inspire and empower students with the knowledge and tools to live a healthy lifestyle. Our school’s APPLE Seed Club gives students the opportunity to become leaders and mentors in our school community by learning ways to choose and recommend healthy lifestyle options to their peers. At FMIS we also foster positive relationships and have wellness hour for our staff. Staff play team building games to keep them active and healthy,” added Rahman.
Heather Fisher, Apple School Health Champion and Kindergarten teacher at Timberlea Public School echoes similar sentiments.
“APPLE is an important part of our school culture. Healthy eating and living are promoted through the program and supported by the staff in our school. We have a healthy breakfast cart program which takes place each morning allowing students to choose a healthy breakfast item should they need it. We also have healthy taste tests throughout the year and healthy fitness or eating activities (Yoga, DancePlay, etc). After school activities such as sports (floor hockey, volleyball, etc) and skipping clubs are also part of the programming,” shared Fisher.
Doing What’s Best for Kids at the Fort McMurray Public School District. For more information on any of our 15 schools, visit: www.fmpsdschools.ca. For real time updates: follow us on Twitter: @FMPSD @DougNicholls2 and like us on Facebook: Fort McMurray Public School District.