It’s still part of a pilot project but already a new youth health centre at Digby Regional High School is showing positive results and those at the school can’t imagine the school environment without it.
The school is piloting a new model to help teenagers with mental health and health promotion.
The goal is to use a standard approach to provide supports and services and to better co-ordinate and connect students with resources already available to them.
In Digby, a new space known as The Hub has been created as part of the school's centre and a full-time youth health promoter has been hired.
"We're in the early stages of opening The Hub and it's been an exciting time for the students to help give input on what they want this space to look like and be," Erin Todd, Nova Scotia Health Authority's youth health promoter at Digby Regional, stated in a media release about the pilot. "It's been really rewarding to see the students engaging with each other in this space and identifying things that will support and promote their health."
Clare-Digby MLA Gordon Wilson, who is also the province’s environment minister, visited the school on May 17 and got to see what is taking place. Hearing students talk about what having these services means to them was very powerful, he said in an interview.
“It’s giving them a safe place, giving them a place where they can, and they used the words, ‘be themselves.’ That really hits you when you hear them say a place to be themselves because that means that they can’t be themselves sometimes,” he said.
Todd echoes the significance of this. In an interview she said the youth in the school are very appreciative of having a safe, technology-free space provided for them. Todd did a focus group with some Grade 7, 8 and 9 students to help shed more light on the types of supports that young people are seeking.
“They were talking about how in the school there’s spaces where they feel safe and comfortable but there are other spaces where they might feel intimated or not as welcome for various reasons,” she said, noting the technology-free aspect of The Hub may have been challenging to some at first, but now the students are even policing it themselves.
While there are SchoolsPlus initiatives taking place in the province, the Department of Health and Wellness says Digby Regional High is the first school in the tri-county area to have a youth health centre. Three other schools are involved in the pilot: Amherst Regional, Glace Bay High and Citadel in Halifax.
The centres work with partners to offer students a range of services, including health education, mental health, health promotion, referrals and follow-up support.
Partners include the Department of Health and Wellness, Nova Scotia Health Authority, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and regional centres for education.
Provincial funding comes from the Canada-Nova Scotia Home and Community Care and Mental Health and Addiction Services Funding Agreement. Announced in December 2016, the federal government is providing Nova Scotia with about $290 million over 10 years for targeted incremental investments in home and community care and mental health and addiction services.
Wilson said Digby is in year one of the two-year pilot. Asked when this initiative may be rolled out to other schools, he wasn’t sure of a timeline. But he said the information that is gathered will be important given how things are set up at other schools could still vary somewhat based on what best supports should be in place for those schools and communities.
“I think certainly there is going to be a point in time coming up very soon where that evaluation is going to give some very good feedback about what the next steps will be, not just here in Digby but for other communities too,” Wilson said.
Todd, meanwhile, noted the more schools can offer to youth beyond just the curriculum they’re studying in the classroom is a good thing.
“It’s just so great to be part of a vibrant school community,” she said. “Yes, we have deficits, but we have so many assets; it’s wonderful.”