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WellAhead project promotes wellbeing

Sea to Sky School District one of six taking part in pilot project



A new initiative focused on the social and emotional wellbeing of children is being tested in six B.C school districts.

The WellAhead project — a philanthropic endeavour of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation — was launched in August.

The Sea to Sky School District was chosen to take part out of 44 B.C. districts that applied.

"Mental health often has a negative connotation, so people think of anxiety or depression," said Sheena Cholewka, school psychologist and local community liaison for the project. "So by emotional wellbeing we're talking about positive things — optimism, happiness, self-esteem — so we're looking at the positive spin of emotional wellbeing versus stigma of mental health."

Since launching in August, the WellAhead team has been brainstorming ideas with local stakeholders, with community sessions in Squamish and Pemberton attracting more than 100 attendees in total. When all was said and done nearly two-dozen ideas had been discussed.

"From there we narrowed it down to four specific practices that we are considering to implement in January," Cholewka said.

The four ideas being considered for the Sea to Sky are: encouraging friendly, daily greetings, allowing kids to practice their social skills in a daily safe space, phasing out negative language or phrasing and a prescribed "zen time" that would allow for quiet learning activities.

People are encouraged to read more about the ideas and share their own thoughts at

"I think in Sea to Sky we're seeing some of the highest response in terms of our website," said Mali Bain, provincial lead for the project.

The ultimate goal of WellAhead, Bain said, is to make the wellbeing of kids a seamless part of everyday school life.

"I think that is the endgame for us, is thinking about how social and emotional wellbeing could be a part of how a school operates," she said. "Not an extra add-on but rather a part of the culture of a school."

Changing that culture would have beneficial spin-off effects for teachers as well, said Bain, a former teacher herself.

"When students are in a better space, teachers are able to enjoy learning alongside their students even more, and I think that ripples out in many ways — to parents, to community members, to our health system, to our political system," Bain said.

The Sea to Sky School District does have practices in place to promote social and emotional wellbeing, "but I think what's lacking is a knowledge of and research of what works and what doesn't work," Cholewka said.

"There's very little research out there, so I think the WellAhead team wants to research... what are the key nuggets that actually make a difference for emotional wellbeing that are sustainable and easy to implement in schools."

With the brainstorming phase wrapping up, the WellAhead proect will spend January to June testing out some of its ideas.

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