In April 2013, The Quaich concluded the "Scaling Up Mental Health Promotion in Atlantic Canada" project, a component of the Canadian Mental Health Association – Nova Scotia Division’s "Socially and Emotionally Aware Kids (SEAK) Project."
One of the major activities of this project was the Invitational Think Tank on Scaling Up Mental Health Promotion in Atlantic Canada, which was sponsored by CMHA-NS with support from the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Innovation Strategy, and hosted by The Quaich at White Point Beach Resort in Nova Scotia.
The Think Tank brought together representatives from government, non-profit organizations, and business from across Atlantic Canada. The two and a half day event focused on the best ways to promote mental health within the school system, using proven programs to build social and emotional skills in children, and ensuring that these programs are delivered with fidelity and sustainability.
The event introduced participants to the SEAK Project being conducted by CMHA-NS in partnership with Dalhousie University. SEAK is testing one proven mental health promotion program called PATHS (Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies), which focuses on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Think Tank participants learned about the program structure, its proven success and impact, and its high return on investment.
PATHS is designed to build social and emotional skills in elementary school children from kindergarten to grade 6. Children learn a range of social and emotional skills, such as how to build self-awareness, develop healthy relationships, and make good decisions. Think Tank speakers provided examples of how these skills translate into a higher quality of life: better resilience to mental stressors, higher academic performances and career earnings, and better awareness of overall health and wellness.
While Think Tank participants enthusiastically discussed the positive features of programs such as PATHS, they were also keen to witness a program for themselves. A trip to Newcombville Elementary School in Lunenburg left a very positive impression of the PATHS program. Participants attended PATHS classes, observed student-teacher interactions, and witnessed the curriculum in action. Students demonstrated their social and emotional awareness not only during the lessons but outside class as well.
The school’s principal reported improved academic success and a “huge decrease” in disciplinary visits to his office following adoption of the innovative curriculum. The PATHS program has helped to create a healthier school environment, foster positive relationships between students and teachers, and reduce bullying.
The Think Tank demonstrated that a child’s education encompasses more than reading, writing, and arithmetic: it should also include social and emotional learning to lay the foundation for a happy, healthy adulthood. The Think Tank inspired participants by revealing the impact a mental health promotion program can have when supported by the public, organizational leaders and policy makers. The event has stimulated interest in SEL, with participants taking steps to continue the dialogue in their home provinces to advance SEL within the education system.