Talking about challenges of mental health resonates with Aden Bowman teachers

Sask Bulletin
November 13, 2019

Joelle Krysak and Rick Bowes share a lighter moment while looking over
the jam-packed agenda for the wellness and mental health day held at
Aden Bowman Collegiate.

A year ago, a foundation was established for students to talk about mental health issues at Aden Bowman Collegiate in Saskatoon. This year it had morphed into an all-day event with no less than 26 wellness sessions in the morning and another 28 offered in the afternoon (many were off-site).

Even that statement gives you an appreciation for the amount of logistical work that had to be put in place. While the entire staff pitched in, resource teacher Joelle Krysak and science teacher Rick Bowes were front and centre when it came to organizing the day.

Enlisting the help of a host of community organizations, Saskatoon City Police and the Grades 10 to 12 students themselves, the organizers fulfilled what they saw as integral to the day–students being able to choose what resonated with them the most.

“It was great to see what the students came up with in terms of variety, and so we didn’t wind up with just a narrow focus. It was clear right from the start in talking to the students that they wanted choice in terms of the sessions we were able to offer,” Krysak said.

Among the host of presenters were the multiple keynotes delivered by Connie Jakab, director of the National Hope Talks foundation. Her presentation included some of her own struggles with bullying growing up and later, the suicidal thoughts exhibited by her son at age eight.

She implored the students in the theatre to find the courage and the sense of bravery required in order “to do whatever it takes to make you who you are and what you stand for. You need to have a plan and it’s about the decisions you make,” she said, while also adding the importance of perhaps getting parents back in students’ lives more.

“Every single one of you has the ability to overcome the challenges you might face, whether it’s anxiety or depression, and you all have the ability to be resilient,” she reassured them.

Sitting in a vacated classroom with Bowes, Krysak spoke of their shared passion and that of their colleagues at the school in wanting to create a school culture where it’s OK to talk about mental health issues and that they are here to support each other. “This is an example of trying to provide an extra tool for the students’ tool kits and helping them in any way we can,” she said.

From Bowes’ standpoint, the whole process has been empowering, adding that “we have to remind ourselves that mental health issues are not a sign of weakness and it should not be synonymous with that. I’ve learned so much in being involved in this whole process. It just confirms how important it is for us as teachers to listen and to realize we have to change to make room for this new generation so that in turn, they can pass on what they learn. It’s not like when we went to school,” he acknowledged.

“As a staff we know how important this is. If we can reach one or 10 out of the 900-plus students, you see real value and it keeps driving us forward.”

Krysak said that to see this day come to fruition has been huge for every single member of the staff, “and we can’t forget about it after this day. We have to be mindful of this all the time and it has to be our reality,” she said, brandishing the T-shirt the two were wearing for the day.

Both spoke resoundingly of the degree of support they have received from principal Paul Humbert and the administrative team as well as Saskatoon Public Schools and certainly not least, from the school community council, whom Bowes said came up with the funding to bring in Jakab. He said throughout the process, which started back in the spring, there has been unconditional support.

“In fact, we’ve had people just totally behind this and asking how they could help, and so that has been very gratifying. People see the need for us to address some of these issues that our students face.”

“You realize working in a school with all these students that it’s more than just about academics. We feel so fortunate to have been given the time and opportunity to do this and it’s important to maybe help make a difference for a kid,” Krysak added.

“I was shocked at the level the kids would open up with us and in how they wanted to help others. Historically, [Aden] Bowman has been somewhat of a melting pot. It’s been very close-knit and there have been some really cool moments along the way. It’s been great to see how this involvement has made students probably trust us more,” Bowes noted.

“My eyes have really been opened and I’ve got to know some of the students that much better. The energy the students have put into the process has been my medicine and given me great strength,” he said, noting how one of the surprises has been the degree to which male students in particular have opened up.

“It’s been a great learning opportunity for all of us. I know a lot of students feel important today, so it feels really good,” Bowes added.