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Expanding mental health, learning supports for schools | Davantage d’appuis à la santé mentale et à l’apprentissage dans les écoles

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Alberta’s government is doubling its previous commitment for student mental health pilot projects while also extending funding to close learning gaps.

Positive mental health is a critical component of academic success. As part of Alberta’s recovery-oriented system of mental health and addiction care, it is essential that student mental health is supported. To enhance existing efforts, Alberta Education is doubling the funding previously announced to support mental health pilots in schools to $40 million.

“We are aware that as students continue to recover from learning disruptions, additional mental health supports are needed to ensure each individual is able to move forward and reach their fullest potential within the school system. This investment ensures that students across Alberta have adequate access to mental health resources and supports, which will result in a better chance of participating in meaningful learning and relationship building. Additionally, targeted programming for early elementary learners will support the objective of maintaining on-track development, which may have been previously lost due to interferences in school.”

Adriana LaGrange, Minister of Education

This investment over the next two years will support close to 60 mental health pilot projects to improve K-12 students’ well-being. Because learning success plays a role in students’ mental health, Alberta’s government is also providing school authorities with $10 million this year to help struggling students get back on track after the pandemic.

“Students deserve to feel supported and have access to mental health supports as they complete their K-12 studies. Through our province’s recovery-oriented system of care, we are taking action to improve the mental health of children and youth and make a difference in their lives.”

Nicholas Milliken, Minister of Mental Health and Addiction

Mental health

School authorities across the province will collaborate with mental health service providers to carry out their pilot projects until December 2024. The projects will explore new and innovative approaches to providing supports and services including counselling, social and emotional learning, student assessment and training for school staff. The goal is to drive local solutions while gathering information to inform a broader approach to supporting students across the province.

Examples of the kinds of activities being piloted include:

  • Having a registered psychiatric nurse, a teacher with additional training in supporting mental health and behaviour, and a social worker readily available to classrooms;
  • Appointing a mental health navigator to become a point person for families seeking mental health information, supports or resources.
  • Giving students time and space to regulate, with the help of certified staff, when they are having difficulty managing their feelings. 

An open and competitive call for mental health pilot proposals ran from July 12 to Sept. 15. These pilot projects are in addition to Alberta’s recent investment of $42 million over three years to improve access to mental health supports in schools and develop an integrated school-based services model, establishing CASA mental health classroom teams and expanding the Integrated School Support Program.

Starting in early 2023, CASA mental health classroom teams will support students with intensive or specialized treatment needs who require more help to succeed than a regular classroom with added mental health supports can provide. Expanding integrated school support programming, which provides school-based prevention supports for children and youth in elementary schools, including access to a mental health professional, is already underway. More schools will add programming in the new year.

“FrancoSud is thankful that the Government of Alberta is recognizing learning disruptions and the need for new mental health supports for students. This funding will allow us to pursue the targeted literacy and numeracy work that began last year, as well as put in place innovative mental health initiatives that will have a direct positive impact on the well-being and global success of our students.”

Chantal Desjardins, vice-chair, Conseil scolaire FrancoSud

“Educators and local school communities play an essential role in providing prevention and early intervention mental health services for children, youth and their families. Increased access to evidence-based mental health supports that are responsive to local community context are needed. Funding to support collaboration between education, health and local community agencies are necessary to provide timely, targeted and easily accessible wraparound mental health services.”

Dr. Jennifer Turner, director, Centre for Wellbeing in Education, Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary

"The Alberta School Boards Association appreciates government’s announcement of additional funding that will assist school boards in providing supports and services for students who continue to recover from mental health challenges and learning loss. This will allow for timely and accessible mitigation of long-term effects of the pandemic for our students.” 

 Marilyn Dennis, president, Alberta School Boards Association

“Enhancing well-being for students is critical to their success in learning and pursuit of a hopeful and rewarding future. The CASS board of directors is supportive of this timely and enhanced investment in the needs of students.”

Dr. Scott Morrison, president, College of Alberta School Superintendents

Learning disruption

Almost 50,000 students across the province will benefit from additional help at school. School authorities will use the $10 million to design their own programs to meet each student’s specific needs. For example, they may hire additional teachers and educational assistants, provide additional training to their staff or purchase resources like books and videos.

This is an extension of provisional funding from last year. In 2021-22, school authorities received $45 million to help students in grades 1-3 catch up from the pandemic. These students regained an average of five to eight months of literacy and numeracy development. This year’s funding will go towards the same students, who are now in grades 2-4.

Early literacy and early numeracy skills are strong predictors of a child’s long-term academic achievement. Research has shown that if educators can identify and help struggling learners early, those students can catch up to grade level relatively quickly. By providing extra supports to Alberta’s youngest learners now, the government will prevent pandemic learning disruptions from having a lasting impact on students’ development.

Quick facts:

  • This funding announcement is included in the $113 million previously announced by Alberta’s government in June.
  • Alberta’s government spends more than $1 billion annually on addiction and mental health programs, services and supports.
  • Budget 2022 also includes $1.4 billion for Learning Supports funding to meet students’ specialized learning needs. Existing in-school programs help provide students with psychological and social-emotional supports, access to mental health workers and other wellness supports and services as needed.
  • As a result of the learning disruption programming in 2021-22, students in grades 1-3 regained an average of 6.7 months of literacy skills development and 6.7 months of numeracy skills development.
  • Other available mental health resources available to youth include:
    • The Kids Help Phone is available 24-7 and offers professional counselling, information and referrals and volunteer-led, text-based support to young people by texting CONNECT to 686868.
    • For young people with cell phones, Kickstand offers the MoreGoodDays text messaging service. This service offers daily inspiration and advice via text to boost mental health. This program is similar to AHS’s Text4Hope, but geared specifically to young people. Young people can get started by texting “MoreGoodDays” to 393939.
    • Indigenous students and staff may wish to contact the toll-free Hope for Wellness Help Line at 1-855-242-3310 or the online chat at hopeforwellness.ca (open 24 hours a day, seven days a week). This line offers immediate mental health counselling and crisis intervention to all Indigenous Peoples across Canada in Cree, Ojibwa and Inuktitut.
    • Alberta 211 provides information, referrals and resources.
    • Professionally trained specialists are available by texting INFO to 211, by live chat through the website at ab.211.ca or by calling 2-1-1.

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