Teachers at Beacon Christian School want students to be aware that mental health is as important as physical health.
Grade 8 teacher Albert Kok and grade 7 teacher Heather Wiersma have been eager to shine a spotlight on the subject since May of last year.
“We often see the effects of stress in our students and were unaware of how much they knew it was affecting them,” said Kok.
As he and Wiersma engaged students in learning about mental health, it became clear that the subject might be personal or even difficult to talk about for some. Recently, the senior teachers decided to have their classes create small, informative commercials that offered tips about how to stay mentally healthy.
“We liked the commercial format because it would encourage students not to write a cheesy mental health story where there is a happy ending, but give tips about being mentally healthy; to focus on one or two ideas,” said Kok.
The opportunity also allowed students to reach out to others. They were “motivated to understand mental health in teens because they realized it could help someone,” he noted.
Allison, a student in grade 8, worked with three classmates to create a video about the different ways that young girls judge and compare one another.
“We mainly focused on girls, because we think that they compare more. And we did find out that a lot of girls do self doubt. So that was the main focus on our video.”
As Allison researched the connection between self doubt and mental health, she was struck by some of the statistics she came across. “I was mainly surprised that 7 out of 10 girls will feel that they don’t measure up in some way, which affects their relationships and school work,” she said. “I knew that a lot of people would self-doubt, just not that many.”
While it may seem difficult for students to share what they learned in short commercial sized videos, Kok said that their grade 7/8 classes embraced the challenge.
“From the responses I received from the students, they enjoyed producing the videos the most,” he said. “They enjoyed the acting, sure, but they enjoyed thinking about how to tell a compelling story in a commercial sized space. The shots, music and story had to be used in an effective manner.”
Another highlight for the class involved writing a survey about mental health for students in Christian schools across Ontario. Kok shared the electronic questionnaire on the OACS edCommons website, and teachers quickly passed the survey on to their students.
“In my group, I liked finding the different opinions from other students about mental health” said Patrick, a grade 8 student involved in creating the survey. According to Patrick, the finished online form asked questions about the impact of bullying (via social media) on mental health, the helpfulness of coping skills, and who kids talk to when they’re stressed—just to name a few. Other basic questions, like “do you know what mental health is?” where included in the survey.
Evidently, these were questions that members of the broader Christian school community were willing to answer.
“In the end we got 230 results,” said Patrick. “We were really surprised. We didn’t think we’d get over 100.”
“The students were very pleased,” reported Kok. “It put a more important emphasis on the commercials that they were writing, and they felt a greater responsibility for creating good stuff.”
As they considered the complexity of mental health, students received encouragement and inspiration from experts in their local community. A visit from Jenna Rensink-Dexter, a social worker in the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board, was a highlight.
“There was an immediate connection with our students about what mental health was and why it was important to them,” said Kok.
Tommy Alley, a videographer who has done work for the Beacon Christian School, also came to share his expertise. Alley used movies and a handout to talk to the students about different shots he incorporated into his videos and what kind of impact it had on the audience.
This year, in particular, Beacon Christian School’s approach to mental health fits within a holistic understanding of what it means to be healthy. Students have been exploring things like the importance of eating well, exercising, responding to stressful situations, and building good relationships.
The multifaceted approach impressed guests of all ages at the school’s recent, Celebration of Learning event, where students had the opportunity to present their ideas for encouraging the health of other students and parents within their community. Along with the videos and survey, projects created by students this year have included plates with portion sizes and food suggestions, a healthy cookbook filled with locally grown lunch recipes, and a circuit comprised of seven stations designed to challenge the heart and lung function of participants.
Kok believes that the event as a whole was successful in “pushing the students to produce great work”.
“We had multiple drafts and creating multiple starting points. It was an effort to help the students understand that the creative process is not a one and done process, but involves multiple starting points and critical thinking.”
Not only has this “great work” been a source of pride for students, it’s been a way for them to leave a positive mark on the culture at large.
“We have a calling and a responsibility to influence culture for Christ,” wrote Kok in a recent reflection about the various projects. “Culture making is part of that calling and a tangible way to influence culture for Christ. We are called by God to make good stuff!”
Interested in watching more of the Mental Health Break commercials that students made? Check out the links below!