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Upper Grand District School Board focusing on mental health with new project

The Umbrella Project will teach students, staff and parents about how to care for their mental health and well-being
20200930 Jenny Marino AD
Jenny Marino is the mental health & addictions lead at the Upper Grand District School Board. Supplied photo.

Students and staff at the Upper Grand District School Board are taking on a new project involving mental health.

In October, the board will launch The Umbrella Project in 65 elementary schools and 11 high schools under its jurisdiction.

Throughout the school year, the project will offer monthly themes, activities and curriculum to teach students and staff about different aspects of mental health and well-being. 

The Umbrella Project was created by Dr. Jen Forristal, a naturopathic doctor who specializes in pediatric mental health.

Named after something used to weather bad storms, The Umbrella Project aims to provide people with the skills needed to protect themselves and work through some of the stressors they face.

Jenny Marino is the mental health and addictions lead at UGDSB. She said the project is the start of a board-wide goal to create a safe and inclusive learning environment in all of their schools. 

"There's a lot of evidence to say that one-off, one-week, one-day recognition doesn't really create change." said Marino, "I hope it becomes a conversation piece and we can really weave it in to everything that we do."

Marino adds the program is comprehensive, can be broken down to address different needs, and another way to help bring both students and staff together during the pandemic.

“It’s creating an enhanced sense of connectedness with the community,” said Marino, “With social distancing and all the lockdown months we experienced prior, it allows us to stay connected and do something together as schools.”

The school board is also planning to add a monthly column in the school’s newsletters for parents to learn about mental health alongside their children. 

“It’s strengthening the community itself.” said Marino.

With rising conversations around racial inequalities, the UGDSB recognizes the challenges students and staff face this year, especially those who are Black, Indigenous or a person of colour.

“The intersection of equity, inclusion, well-being, mental health and learning is now more important than ever that we really look at that link.” said Marino.

“Wellness is experienced differently by different groups, by people of different identities, and the work we are doing is not in the absence of recognizing and addressing systemic inequities and oppression, but our work comes alongside it...we are working to embed those conversations into this process as we move along.”

Residents can learn more about The Umbrella Project by following #UGUmbrella on social media.