Skip to content

Mental health of WCDSB students grows with wellness gardens

'This has been really out of the box on how we provide traditional mental health interventions,' says mental health lead for the board
20210818 WCDSB wellness gardens AD
Two students focus on adding a small green plant into one of the wellness gardens. Supplied photo

Students’ mental health has been blossoming this summer with the new Wellington Catholic District School Board’s wellness gardens.

Located at St. Peter’s Catholic School, St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic School and Holy Trinity Catholic School, 60 students each spend two hours a week tending to the gardens with the help of volunteers. 

Besides tending the gardens, students helped choose what fruits and vegetables are included and how they want the garden to look. Students were also allowed to take home the produce they grew to share with family and friends.

“We have received astronomical feedback from parents and caregivers who actually haven’t seen their child this happy in so long,” said Sony Brar Wilmer, mental health lead for the WCBS, who came up with the idea.

A news release from WCDSB says the gardens are recognized by School Mental Health Ontario as an exemplary activity to keep students engaged and receiving support over the summer months. 

“This has been really out of the box on how we provide traditional mental health interventions,” said Wilmer.

“I looked into garden-based mental health interventions and nature-based mental health interventions, and I looked into the grey research as well and I looked into the positive aspects as well, and I thought, ‘Okay, let’s plant the seed and see where it goes!’”

With students suffering from online fatigue, Wilmer explains this program was a way for students to get outside and foster positive connections with their school before then potential transition back to in school learning, especially those who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, including newcomer and multilingual students.

“We’re hoping it provides that gentle exposure so that it feels familiar when they return in September,” said Wilmer.

The gardens were developed with the help of Peter Glaab, the healthy active living resource teacher with the WCDSB.

“He really took the idea around the garden and he was able to help us with the planting and the logistics of the garden, and then we had our wonderful mental health clinicians carrying out the work,” said Wilmer.

Wilmer adds each garden also has mental health clinicians which help students, along with child youth workers, teachers and one vice principal.

“It’s really been a wraparound community approach to make this happen.”

At the beginning of the season, students completed an assessment before participating with the gardens. While the program is not yet finished, Wilmer expects to see successful results based on check-ins.

“The engagement has been significantly high, and so far without seeing that post-screen, I would say it’s been a huge success with students expressing a sense of belonging, a sense of mastery and a sense of hope.” 

Based on their data, Wilmer mentions it opens up possibilities to continue the wellness gardens into the school year.

“We’re hoping we can continue some of that gardening come September, that there are some plants that we can grow, because the weather will allow for that.”