New mental health curriculum coming to Island schools next September
Training took place last week to create 'master trainers' in new resources
A group of 30 teachers, principals and mental health professionals gathered in Summerside, P.E.I., last week for training that will form the basis for a new mental health curriculum in P.E.I.'s classrooms.
The training was led by Dr. Stan Kutcher, a psychiatry professor at Dalhousie University who has developed a curriculum to build students' awareness around mental health.
"What we're trying to do is improve the mental health literacy of students and teachers so that we will improve mental health outcomes," Kutcher said.
"Awareness about mental health is important, but by itself that's not the end of the conversation, it's just the opening door to the conversation, because we have to have literacy to be able to understand what we mean when we talk to each other."
The curriculum teaches students about maintaining their own mental health, about different mental disorders and their treatments, how to decrease stigma around mental illness, as well as how best to get help.
New curriculum to be trialled
Those in attendance will become master trainers — able to train others in two resources Dr. Kutcher has developed. One of those is the Go-To Teacher Training, which trains teachers and other members of the school community in how to deal with students who come to them, how to recognize mental disorders and to point students toward help.
The other resource is in Dr. Kutcher's curriculum guide, which is being incorporated into a Grade 8 health curriculum being developed for Island schools.
Staff from all nine of P.E.I.'s families of schools were at this initial training.
Maribeth Rogers Neale, health and physical education curriculum leader with the Department of Education, said the Go-To Teacher Training can be done as part of a one day professional development session, and teachers will get further training as the Grade 8 health curriculum is rolled out beginning next school year.
The department's health curriculum committee will be meeting regularly over the spring to figure out the best way to implement the curriculum, she said, adding that it won't be rolled out all at once.
"They'll be workshopping it as they're teaching the health curriculum and once we have that all ironed out, we'll be looking at then bringing that committee to train other health teachers to implement it into the curriculum."
'It applies to our every day life'
Gulf Shore Consolidated School vice-principal Maria Lavoie said it's not hard to imagine incorporating what she is learning into her teaching.
"It's things that we can apply to our teaching, but it applies to our every day life, our students that we're seeing every day…. These are literacy skills that we can share with the whole community," she said, adding she's already started to bring some of the information from the session into her classroom.
"If we don't have strong mental health and strong mental health awareness as teachers, as family members and as students, none of that other learning is going to happen," she said. "It's not an extra, but it's an essential."
Some of Dr. Kutcher's work is already part of P.E.I.'s Grade 10 physical education curriculum. Tyler Read, a physical education teacher at Morell Regional High School, said the additional training will help his teaching.
"It's giving me more confidence in what I am doing," Read said. "[Dr. Kutcher] has a really great way of describing and helping us understand the complexities but yet also how simple it can be to help in a lot of these situations."
P.E.I. to study outcomes
As Dr. Kutcher spoke to the room, the word "evidence" came up multiple times — evidence behind different treatments and interventions, as well as evidence behind his approach.
The Department of Education has plans to track the outcomes of the new curriculum, and Dr. Kutcher will be taking part in that research.
"It's not just we're going to bring it in and we hope it works," he said. "We're going to bring this in and we're going to be able to see how well it works."
Dr. Kutcher has done this training in nine province and two territories, as well as a number of countries around the world. He regularly publishes research on the outcomes of his work.
"The evidence that we have from across Canada and from multiple other countries in the world," he said, "is that this intervention works really, really well and it doesn't matter where it's applied and it doesn't matter who applies it in what way, as long as they use the information to apply the material."
He said when it comes to P.E.I., he has skin in the game.
"I have three grandkids and they're going to come through the school system here, so I'm really hopeful that they get exposure to this."
This story is part of an ongoing series CBC P.E.I. is doing on mental health services in the province. You can share your experiences with us here.