Some caring hearts and minds
Education: Program helping High River staff, students and families
By: Bruce Campbell
| Posted: Thursday, May 22, 2014 11:28 am
A family who used to work with troubled youth at a ranch near Longview are now helping High River school staff and students cope with the mental stress of the 2013 flood.
Fawna Bews and Joel Edey are part of Hearts and Minds, collaboration between Foothills School Division and Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools to provide support for students, families and staff.
“I feel so excited about the potential for this program and that hasn’t faded,” said Bews, the Hearts and Minds program co-ordinator. “The idea is to try reduce the stigma of mental health.”
Bews and Edey worked at the Stampede Ranch for Kids, west of Longview, before it closed in the fall.
Bews said the flood of 2013 was the genesis for bringing Hearts and Minds to High River, but the services are not restricted to flood-related issues.
The program consists of the program coordinator, family therapists and four wellness coaches.
The schools in High River continue to have their own family liaison counsellors and youth development counsellors who work closely with Hearts and Minds, whose office is in Senator Riley School.
“We have been allowing them to take the lead because they have already established relationships,” Bews said of its relationship with the schools. “We are going to where the need is, for example we might go to speak at (teachers’) professional development days about anxiety in kids and dealing with personal anxiety. We are not working in isolation of the school divisions, we are working with them. Foothills and Christ the Redeemer have been great.”
Everyone involved is trying to help the children.
Bews has heard some students are not just playing tag or hide and seek, they are playing a new game.
“We have heard from teachers that kid are playing ‘Flood,”’ said Bews who has a masters in counselling. “The kids are using words like DRP, berm — kids in elementary are using words you wouldn’t usually hear.”
Hearts and Minds is also working closely with other agencies in High River.
“We’ve definitely been working with others and not trying to duplicate services — when would we use our family therapists? When would we use High River Counselling Centre or when would the hospital be most appropriate?”
It’s a team effort, but being right at Senator Riley School has allowed students to get some not-so-formal sessions just to put smiles on their faces or songs in their hearts.
“Every Wednesday we have a jam session at lunch in the common area,” Bews said. “One of our wellness counsellors, Ethan Collister, is a singer-songwriter and he’s been doing writing and singing with the kids… Music and the arts are healing and we are working with other groups to bring some expressive art activities.
“A lot of people in High River haven’t had the chance to sit down and reflect…. Since June 20, it appears to be just one thing after another.”
Bews’ brother Joel Edey is one of the wellness counsellors. The counsellors aren’t afraid to include child’s play in helping students.
“One of the things that was identified by staff and students was the need for more active play,” Bews said. “We have come together with Highwood High students, who have come and support us with intramurals and recess play with the elementary students. That has been amazing.”
Senator Riley Middle School principal Tracey McKinnon said while all High River schools benefit with having Hearts and Minds in the community, it is a bonus to have the organization in its facility.
“We feel special — I have to be careful not to monopolize them,” McKinnon said with a chuckle. “Just having Ethan jamming with the kids might seem just like a small thing, but it is a way to create a relationship, so that when something does come up, the kids are: ‘Oh, he plays guitar, he’s okay. He’s someone who I can speak too.”
She added the program has helped to relieve some of the pressure off the school’s family liaison counselor, Barb Kellock.
“Part of the learning is what does she do and what does Hearts and Minds do and that is still evolving,” McKinnon said. “Barb is now referring a person to Hearts and Minds. The cases are bigger than her scopes, the families that are major crises, Barb can listen to and counsel, but maybe what they need is more Alberta Mental Health strategies.”
Hearts and Minds is also available to High River teachers, who are often reluctant to get help.
“But right now the teachers are doing what they are always doing — referring the students, but not necessarily taking care of themselves,” McKinnon said. “The Easter break couldn’t happen at a better time.”
Hearts and Minds is a three-year program and at this point is restricted to High River staff, students and their families.