Wellness in Focus at SMCS
Student mental health and well-being were the focus over the last month at St. Michael’s College School (SMCS) as students headed into mid-year assessments.
Our Student Wellness Office tackles issues and concerns around mental health while supporting each student’s social-emotional learning.
“In order for students to perform their best, they need to manage moderate levels of stress — yes, stress can be a good thing when managed appropriately,” says Liat Benzacar, who is a Registered Social Worker (RSW) and the school’s Student Wellness Officer. “This helps them to plan and prepare, focus their attention, and energize them to face challenges. Stress and anxiety can interfere with brain function, increase physiological stimulation, and hinder cognitive processing, reasoning, and memory.”
In addition to the one-on-one support the Student Wellness Office provides students, a variety of wellness initiatives take place throughout the school year, particularly around assessment times.
Smart Study Snacks Session
On December 7, the Wellness Team — a co-curricular club at SMCS that promotes positive mental health and wellness — invited Sari Papular, a registered nutrition consultant practitioner to speak with students after school via Zoom.
“She shared tips and tricks on honouring cravings while still ensuring that students are fueling their bodies and brains to their best potential,” says Benzacar.
Since 2019, SMCS has been bringing in therapy dogs during the days leading up to mid-year and final assessments to help reduce stress and spread joy.
On December 12 and 13, Corporate Canine Therapy, an organization that provides trained therapy dogs and their handlers for visits to schools, workplaces, and other environments, sent six dog teams to visit students over the lunch hour at SMCS.
Students were able to pet, interact with, and even hold the furry visitors.
Before heading to their assessments, students were able to grab a quick and nutritious snack from a breakfast and snack table in our café.
“To ensure that students are feeding their brains before writing their exams, we’ve made sure to feed their bellies with fruit, granola bars, and hot chocolate,” says Benzacar.
The hot chocolate was generously sponsored by the SMCS Parents’ Association and available for students each morning beginning at 7:30 a.m. alongside a cart filled with healthy fruit and snacks.
Whether feeling stressed about an upcoming test, assessment, or event outside of school, Benzacar offers the following tips:
- Reframe cognitive patterns e.g. ‘anxiety is dangerous’ to ‘anxiety is something normal to help me plan and prepare’
- Since test-taking anxiety is often fueled by fear of failure, students can practice self-compassion exercises e.g. ‘how might you talk to/encourage your friend? Try speaking to yourself as you would to a good friend and see what happens?’
- Behavioural strategies like breathing and grounding exercises can also help decrease physiological arousal and help incorporate realistic thinking
“It is no surprise that students are concerned about poor performance and the implication on their grade because there is often a focus on a number at the top of the page. This fear is often tied-up in a student’s sense of self-worth — what will my family, teachers, and peers think of me if I don’t achieve a certain grade? This worry can often impact not only the exam itself, but also increase procrastination and unproductive studying,” says Benzacar.