Public board adds special teacher assistant for mental health

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Something as simple as a breathing exercise or taking a few minutes to stretch can really improve a child’s mental well-being and ability to learn.

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With the first week of May designated as Children’s Mental Health Week, the Greater Essex County District School Board announced new support for K-12 students.

The board has appointed veteran teacher Jodi Nolin as its Teacher on Special Assignment for Student Welfare.

Nolin has already begun traveling to schools across the region providing age-appropriate ideas and resources that support mental health and wellness.

“I’ve been dreaming of this job for 10 years,” Nolin said. “I have always been interested in mental health literacy, so I continued to take my own courses. I have a complete study plan.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for mental health services for children and youth throughout the province. Nolin just started her new position this week and is already booking tours for June.

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On a recent visit to the elementary school, Nolin asked students if they had ever felt out of control, said something they wanted to take back, or had trouble sleeping.

“Everyone raise your hand,” he said. “These children are stressed, anxious. They’re dealing with big emotions and that means they’re not open to learning.”

Nolin noted how large emotional responses release chemicals that can impede brain function.

A few minutes spent breathing can stop this chemical release and leave the student feeling calm and relaxed.

“We can develop and strengthen our mindfulness,” Nolin said. “We can learn to manage our emotions. The strategies are as simple as these breathing techniques, but now there’s 40 years of research on this.”

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The board’s initiative was developed with funds from the Ministry of Education’s mental health support fund.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that there has been an increase in anxiety and other mental health issues in schools over the last two years,” said Sash Querbach, superintendent of student wellness for the school board.

The COVID-19 pandemic has closed schools completely multiple times since March 2020 and required numerous restrictions when in-person learning was allowed.

“It’s been such an uncertain and disturbed couple of years,” Querbach said. “The trusted structure of the school has been disrupted and I think it’s reasonable to say that’s part of why we’re seeing the things we’re seeing.”

Nolin is booking tours through the end of this academic year, but Querbach added, “I’m sure we’ll be able to have her next school year as well.”

He said early feedback from teachers and administrators has been very positive.

Nolin has been teaching for the past 23 years and encourages parents and fellow teachers to use the online resources available from School Mental Health Ontario at smho-smso.ca and Conscious Schools in mindfulschools.org.

mcaton@postmedia.com

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