Public board adds special teacher assistant for mental health

Mary Caton 3 minute read May 17, 2022

The Greater Essex County District School Board administration building. Windsor Star

Something as simple as a breathing exercise or taking a few minutes to stretch can really improve a child’s mental well-being and ability to learn. 

With the first week of May designated as children’s mental health week, the Greater Essex County District School Board announced a new support for students from K-12. 

The board has appointed veteran teacher Jodi Nolin as its Special Assignment Teacher for Student Well Being.  

Nolin has already started travelling to schools across the region providing age-appropriate ideas and resources that support mental health and well-being.  

“I’ve been dreaming of this job for 10 years,” Nolin said. “I’ve always been interested in mental health literacy so I’ve continued   taking my own courses. I have an entire curriculum.” 

 The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated the need for mental health services for children and youth across the province. Nolin just started her new position this week and she’s already booking visits into June. 

On a recent grade school visit, Nolin asked the students if they’d ever felt out of control, said something they wanted to take back or if they had trouble sleeping.  

“Everyone put up their hand,” she said. “These kids are stressed, they’re anxious. They’re dealing with big emotions and that means they’re not open to learning.” 

Nolin noted how big emotional responses release chemicals that can impede brain function.  

A few minutes spent focused on breathing can stop that chemical release and leave a student feeling calm and relaxed. 

“We can develop and strengthen our mindfulness,” Nolin said. “We can learn to manage our emotions. The strategies are so simple, like these breathing techniques, but there’s now 40 years of research that’s gone into this.” 

The board’s initiative was developed with funding from the Ministry of Education’s mental health support fund. 

“I don’t think it’s any secret that there’s been an increase in anxiety and other mental health issues in schools over the past couple of years,” said Sash Querbach, school board’s superintendent of student well-being.  

The COVID-19 pandemic has closed schools outright on multiple occasions since March 2020 and demanded numerous restrictions when face-to-face learning was permitted. 

“It’s been such an uncertain and disrupted couple of years,” Querbach said. “The reliable structure of school has been disrupted and I think it’s reasonable to say that’s part of why we’re seeing the things we’re seeing.” 

Nolin is booking visits through the end of this academic year but Querbach added “I’m confident we’ll be able to have her next school year as well.”

He said the early feedback from teachers and administrators has been very positive. 

Nolin has been teaching for the past 23 years and she encourages parents and fellow teachers to use the online resources available at School Mental Health Ontario at smho-smso.ca and Mindful Schools at mindfulschools.org.

mcaton@postmedia.com

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