Staff and students at Forest Lawn High School are breaking the ice and opening up conversations about mental health. On March 17, 2017 Staff and students met in the school gym for an opportunity to hear from our youth champions, Kim Campbell from the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Center, and Sheldon Kennedy himself. Everyone in attendance was then invited to Ernie Starr arena for our annual staff student hockey game, a long-standing tradition at Forest Lawn High School, that was taken up with renewed purpose and meaning this year.
Students at Forest Lawn High School were first given the opportunity to engage in the Youth Champion initiative through the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Center (SKCAC) during the 2014-15 school year. Led by Kim Campbell, the board of the SKCAC and Sheldon Kennedy: they met with students from school boards throughout Southern Alberta and began to engage in conversations around subjects many of us struggle with; abuse, trauma and mental health.
Our current youth champions: Brittany W., Odessa V., Cody E., and Bayly K., have learned about brain development and the many-faceted roles stress can play in a person's life. They have developed a kit full of leadership tools, developed helping skills so they can be positive supports for their peers and connected with youth champions at other schools. As Brittany put it, "We want everyone to know that help is available all around them, and that they are not alone."
Last year students were tasked with creating a Public Service Announcement (PSA) to support this work. Our youth champions created a video on healthy relationships at Forest Lawn High School. This year, they were given a broader mandate: do something to continue this work at your school. The students gravitated to the idea of planning an awareness event around, and raising funds for the SKCAC through our annual staff student hockey game.
They participated in months of planning, held countless meetings, engaged a multitude of resources and showed great perseverance as they were involved in the myriad tasks associated with planning such an event. Kim Campbell from the SKCAC supported them throughout the process. Within the CBE, students engaged and were supported by our teacher champions, school administration and the Success Center as well as Psychological Services and members of CBE Communications and Community Engagement department. This helped them develop an understanding of some of the many factors that go into planning an event such as this, from advertising and reporting, to considering the effects that difficult messages can have on a diverse population.
The event went off without a hitch. The school population was hooked from the start of the opening hip hop dance performance by our school team, engaged and entertained by our knowledgeable and charismatic youth champions, and touched by Sheldon's story of the resilience, strength and hope that helped him to overcome the effects of his own traumatic experiences. The excitement in the gym was palpable. After the assembly, we had a record turn-out at our staff student hockey game. The stands were packed and the event was featured in a story by Global News.
Youth champions at Forest Lawn High School are already at work in planning next year's event. They are learning from their successes this year so they can continue to foster conversations around, and reduce stigma about, mental and trauma in their school community.