Caption: Students from Agnes G. Hodge Elementary School hold posters and materials from the Be Well kit, which they inspired the elementary message when they participated in a Be Well focus group.
Ms. Davies’ classroom circle at Agnes G. Hodge Elementary School is an example of wellness in action.
“The circle provides a chance to come together to talk about whatever we need to – what’s on our minds, what kinds of things might be worrying us,” says Ms. Davies, Grade 4/5 Teacher. “It takes a long time to build trust, but once it’s built, you have a safe space to be yourself.”
Today the circle is taking on a slightly different form to include students from across the primary, junior and intermediate grades at the elementary school, all of whom were members of an important focus group a year ago, providing their thoughts and insights on mental wellness.
Those thoughts and insights became the basis for Be Well, a Grand Erie campaign that began as a wellness initiative in secondary schools, and was recently re-launched the week of March 20 with an elementary focus.
Students in the circle are reviewing a Be Well placard poster, which will become a fixture in the school, and in elementary schools across Grand Erie. The poster contains the headings Connect, Reach Out, Don’t Wait, and Recharge, the now familiar icons of the Be Well campaign. But this time, the accompanying messages are different.
“It’s really good to see that they took our ideas and used them,” says Jade, a Grade 8 student. “Every student should have a voice, and our voices were really heard.”
Under the heading Don’t Wait is a message to students about discussing any concerns they have – about themselves or about a friend – with a trusted adult. This updates the message communicated to secondary students, who have more independence to access resources on their own, and different resources in place within their school communities.
“I like how the vocabulary is easy for everybody to understand,” says Mouli, a Grade 5 student. She notes that her younger brother, who is in Kindergarten, would likely be able to understand the messages of Be Well if she explained them to him. “Now everyone can know what to do.”
Within the safe space of the circle, the discussion among the students evolves to focus on the need for a campaign like Be Well.
“There’s lots of depression and anxiety in Grade 8,” notes Hailey, who is in her final year at the elementary school. “There are LGBTQ+ students who feel pressures, we’re all feeling nervous about starting high school, we’re afraid of what’s going to happen next.”
The younger students can relate. “A lot of us – including me – have depression,” says Mouli. “I’ve moved schools and been bullied before, and have been afraid of losing my friends; now I feel safe and know that I have friends.”
The icons for Reach Out and Connect resonate with the whole group.
“It’s important to feel empowered to say, ‘I’m your friend. What can I do to help you?’” Hailey continues. “I think a lot of us are afraid to reach out, so it really helps people take that step.”
Be Well helps elementary students recognize situations where they might need help. It also has strategies for schools to use as conversation starters – all student and teacher-tested and approved.
“I was bullied once, but I didn’t really know that that’s what it was,” says Zach, who’s in Grade 5, as he examines the Be Well kit. “Now I know what to do if it happens to me or someone else.”
To learn more about the Be Well campaign, see Grand Erie's Mental Health Strategy.