An offshoot of the Wellness Programme underway at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) is a recently-introduced, external initiative called ‘PEP Talk’, a prevention education programme for intermediate grades. It is spearheaded by Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Centre (CYAC).
“Boost partnered with the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Social Work and approached a number of public and private schools in Ontario to offer their ‘PEP Talk’ programme on healthy relationships, funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada,” says Liat Benzacar, M.S.W., RSW, Student Wellness Officer at SMCS. “We saw this as a wonderful opportunity to complement some of the curriculum being delivered in the Grades 7 and 8 classes.”
The programme runs weekly, during homeroom period, from February to April. It includes 11 evidence-based modules focusing on such topics as: self-esteem, communication, getting help and barriers, making friends, gender stereotypes, healthy versus unhealthy relationships, understanding abuse and its impact, responding skills, choices, and consequences, and self-care.
“The initiative is great in that it brings in professionals to offer a ‘new voice’ to our Grade 8 students on topics that they may not always have the opportunities to discuss at home or in a classroom setting,” says Darryl Giancola, Assistant Core Intermediate Department Head and teacher. “It is a wonderful complement to our Religion units in Grade 8, which have always taught and discussed issues on virtue, morality, and sexuality.”
“The Boost (PEP Talk) programme is enriching those studies and offering more real-life scenarios and means to practice the teachings we pedagogically are introducing in class,” he says.
“Kids are increasingly more peer-oriented, so they are going to their friends first,” says Audrey Rastin, Director of Prevention Education at Boost CYAC. “Home base needs to be an adult, an adult they trust.”
“We wanted to design a programme that is truly primary prevention,” continues Rastin. “Helping children build skills to build healthy relationships. These are skills that everyone can use, developed together with the Toronto Catholic and Toronto Public school boards.”
Each session runs about two hours, covers two themes, and is led by a prevention educator from Boost CYAC. The programme will continue in September 2020.
“This aligns with our current wellness initiatives as it is focused on creating intentional, safe spaces for students to develop in ‘mind, body, and spirit’,” adds Benzacar. “We are dedicated to offering our students programmes that are not only created to support their academic development, but also their mental health and well-being. This means finding opportunities that are researched and reviewed.”