Increases in anxiety and mental health concerns as well as statistics around the physical health of students have prompted the Sooke School District to create a new comprehensive school health position.
The title for the new position, which will start with the 2019/20 school year, is lead principal for comprehensive school health and social and emotional learning.
Dave Strange, associate superintendent, told Black Press Media the role will be filled by Saseenos Elementary principal Ruchi McArthur, who has seconded from her principal position for at least one year.
Strange said the creation of the position was driven in part by political will as well as the reality that mental and physical health are prerequisites for learning and academics.
“There’s certainly a drive from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health, as we see within our population, both students and teachers, increases in anxiety, increases in mental health concerns, certainly the statistics around the physical health of our society when we talk about inactivity, obesity, general health concerns like that,” Strange said.
“I think we’re really looking at that and saying that is a core responsibility of ours and we’ve been doing a good job, but we want to build on that.”
He said McArthur’s primary goal will be to develop a comprehensive, three-year Healthy Schools, Healthy People framework to establish “clear, measureable goals and objectives to improve wellness of students, staff and by extension, families.”
She will evaluate existing comprehensive school health practices and update them as required. For example, she will explore opportunities for collaboration between the district and the approximately 30 partners who sit at their Healthy Schools, Healthy People community table.
“Now that we have these really strong, established relationships, let’s start leveraging that,” Strange said of the table, which has grown over the past couple of years to include partners such as Island Health, Child and Teen Mental Health, and the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
“We really are the venue that houses these kids for a significant amount of time each day, each year, for 13 years of their lives.”
McArthur may also undertake other short-term interventions. Strange said interventions could include areas of nutrition, mental well-being, sexual orientation and gender identity, and substance use.