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Blog: Monday, February 28th, 2022

Youth & Mental Health

The Vancouver Sun recently paid ASIA Sumas a visit, hoping to chat with various students about their experiences over the past two years. The writer was particularly interested in learning what students thought they needed given that there is hopeful news that we are moving away from the constraints and repercussions of a global epidemic.

Our students spoke openly about the things they missed over the last two years. They mentioned the tightening of social time being hard or not working because they did not want to have too much contact with others. They discussed not going to a friend's house or having a simple sleepover, both of which are enjoyable activities for a teenager. We could hear the angst, the fury, and the desperation.

The author then inquired as to what the school had done to assist them. This is where, after a brief pause, they talked about three things. The students discussed their relationships with their teachers. They talked about the teacher who takes students on walks during class to give them a mental break. They shone when they talked about how pleased it made them to perform in front of people, even if it was only a small group, and they brought up our R&R room.

Prior to the pandemic, ASIA Sumas staff noticed that certain children were hopping between the various supports available at the school, including our counsellor, youth care worker, indigenous support worker, administration, and the learning services centre. It was intriguing to note that the same names kept cropping up, and that in some cases, students were skipping class entirely and using those areas to escape whatever stress they were experiencing. We decided as a team to designate the modest space outside of our Youth Care office as the R&R room. This stood for Reset & Return, in which a simple magnet, which can be found on the whiteboards in every room, served as a hall pass for students to go and reset themselves before returning to class. This might be anything as simple as a snack, a moment to yourself, a conversation with someone from our support team, or even an art break.

It was encouraging to hear the students talk about the program, even though they did call it the Rest & Relaxation room, which is just as appropriate. It's noteworthy to note that even before the pandemic, mental health was becoming a rising problem in our classrooms. As we approach the two-year mark when schools moved to online learning in British Columbia, it has become a daily topic of conversation. 

Our goal is to strengthen the mental health support mechanisms that we have in place. We feel the anxiousness, and we realise now, more than ever, that everyone deals with stress in their own unique way. We appreciate our community partners, such as the Child Youth and Mental Health Department, the Foundry, our district learning support personnel, and our families, who all work tirelessly to help our youth. It truly does take a village to raise a child, as the phrase goes.

Our desire is that students will be able to develop resiliency with the help of adults in their lives. The staff at ASIA Sumas are dedicated to helping each student achieve this goal. We are learning every day about new ways to help each other and build the confidence of youth so they can assemble their own toolbox of coping skills and mental health management. We hope that each child finds that connection and recognises that they are not alone.

For the time being, we will continue to build those relationships, restock our R&R magnets and continue to teach our students how to self-advocate for that time to Reset and Return.  

Karen Bennett,  
Principal, ASIA Sumas Mountain