We are the Leadership and Resiliency Program (LRP) which is a part of the Grasslands Innovations Project ; a mental health capacity building project. LRP runs out the Brooks Composite High School, the Brooks Junior High School, and Sunrise School. The leaders of LRP currently work with a variety of students from grade 8-12, with up to 15 people in each group. You could compare our groups to a modern day Breakfast Club! If you haven’t seen the movie, you should. Set and released in the 80’s, it’s a film that defined a generation! For those who haven’t seen it or need a recap so you can see the parallels : the main theme of the film is the constant struggle of the typical teenager to be understood, by adults and by themselves. It explores the pressure put on teenagers to fit into high school social constructs, as well as meet the high expectations of their parents, teachers, and other authority figures. (Even though its over 30 years old, some things don’t change!) On the surface, the students have little in common with each other. However as they spend more time together, they eventually bond over a common disdain for the aforementioned issues of peer pressure and expectations. Stereotyping is the other main theme and another strong parallel to LRP. In the film, once the obvious stereotypes are broken down, the characters empathize with each other’s struggles, dismiss some of the inaccuracies of first impressions, and discover that they are much more similar than they are different. The biggest discrepancy, of course is that the Breakfast Club actually takes place at detention and LRP is anything thing but! LRP groups are designed to be a cross section of students from many different social circles and helping them break down stereotypes and barriers is a big part of the work and a big part of the success of the program!
We currently have 80 students that are in LRP through Grasslands School Division and have cycled 178 through the program from 2010-2014 through SPEC.
There are three components to LRP, the first part is Resiliency Groups. This is where we meet with each group once a week in their school. We love our time together during the week, this is a great opportunity for ideas to fly as the students plan service learning projects throughout their school and community. Groups are a time where students can be themselves and release some stress. We also do a lot of team building skills, life skills, and really work on relationships. Our groups are made up of students from a variety of different social groups which brings a lot of different ideas, passions and perspective to the table. In all of our groups we talk about mental health and how everyone has mental health, we discuss that everyone has a brain and taking care and having support for your mental health is just as important as taking care of your physical health.
“LRP is where once a week you get an hour of distraction from your everyday problems. It’s when you can be yourself and not worry about others opinions. We get to know people we normally wouldn’t associate with”~ LRP student.
“Resiliency Groups are important to me because I love meeting new people and I love being able to voice my opinion and feel safe. This group has opened so many new doors for me. It’s honestly amazing, what this group has done for me. I love talking and socializing and hearing so much from Tia and the other kids”. ~ LRP student.
The second component is Service Learning and the students would agree that this is one of their favourite parts of LRP! When we meet during group time we discuss what the students are passionate about, what the needs are in our community and how they can help. To list all of the things they have done would be a blog in itself, but we will highlight some of our favourites. One of our groups has really taken on the role of helping with the local Dialysis fundraiser, they have partnered with the hospital and did an ice cream float sale and a bake sale. At the school they did a Christmas treat sale and a Valentines day sale all of these were really successful and a lot of fun. You can see the pride the students feel for leading these events and they have made fabulous community connections with many positive adults. One of our other groups wanted to help out BAPS and they decided to do a Dog Wash, the students took the initiative and did the advertising, went on the radio, baked dog treats as well as set up, cleaned up and ran the whole dog wash. We were so proud of the students as it was a large community project! The groups have partnered with the Elementary Schools, Seniors Homes, Homeless Shelters in Calgary, Brooks Bandits Mental Health night for two years in a row and helped set up for the Pink Ribbon Project! Students learn so many life and leadership skills through these types of projects. As the years go on you can see the students self esteem increase as they build a positive connection to their school and community.
“It makes me feel good about myself when I help others. Makes me also realize that everybody needs help in life. It makes me want to take care of others.”~ LRP Student.
“Volunteering helps me get away from my crappy problems and makes me forget for a while. It’s also a great feeling to help someone.”~LRP student
The third component of LRP is Adventure Activities. This is where we give the students something to really look forward to a few times a year. The students pick either a local or out of town activity that they want to experience as a group. It is so important to get the students to try new things and push their limits. The benefit of adventure activity is that we are creating the opportunity for the students to get a natural high and experience healthy risk taking situations! Healthy risk taking allows for self reflection, independent thinking, the development of social skills, and the cultivation of self confidence. Adolescents need opportunities to take reasonable risks and experience challenges in order to develop into strong and capable people.
Some examples of adventure activities that we have done are: snow tubing, screamfest, trampoline parks, escape rooms, laser tag, Tim Horton’s camp, hiking in Banff, ‘family’ dinner nights, Calaway Park, murder mystery dinner party, and the You Lead Mental Health Conference. Our grade 9 students even got the opportunity to hear Kevin Hines speak which was an amazing experience for them!
It’s always amazing to watch students, doing something they are fearful of and seeing the group step up and talk them through completing it. They are cheerleaders for one another and they are really proud of each other. They have created so many memories and built strong, positive relationships!
There are program expenses associated with adventure activities, as there is no cost to the students and this is where support from organizations like the Full Circle Foundation come into play! Donations from the community help cover some of the cost for food, transportation and the activities. We have also partnered with Kids Up Front in Calgary to get free tickets for some events.
“We learn about what we like and what we don’t like. It also may show our abilities of helping each other. Also, brings us close together (like family)”~ LRP Student.
“Many kids barely adventure outside, like myself. So it’s important because you get to be a kid enjoying life with people who care about you” ~LRP Student.
One of the things that amazes us about the program is how when we have gotten students testimonials about their experience, they all speak to the relationships that were formed. We have seen it over and over again where the LRP students lean on each other over their own friend groups, as they have been taught coping skills and have more supports. We speak about mental health regularly in groups and do some awareness around the school community, we have had group members advocate for more mental health services in our schools and some students are discussing starting a mental health advocacy group in the fall!
All three components of LRP are beneficial to mental health as our Resiliency Groups create a safe space for students to talk and share, Service Learning builds self esteem and self worth, and Adventure Activities push students outside of their comfort zone, allowing for healthy risk taking. Our students have a large support network that is reliable and they have been taught how to seek help. We have students that are now 25 years old that went through the LRP program and are doing very well. They have shared with us that they have been in situations in life where they know how to access support and that it’s ok to ask for help!
When we talk about stigma regarding mental health we always teach the students that EVERYONE has mental health and when we ask them why they respond with, “EVERYONE has a brain”. The students in LRP understand how important it is to take care of their mental health. They say, “it’s just as important as taking care of your physical health”. We have done a lot of mental health awareness this year and it is near and dear to our students hearts.
We are so grateful to be able to receive funding from the Full Circle Foundation that helps to support our program and also for the other opportunities we have had to partner with them on Bandits Mental Health Night and Service Learning opportunities. Like the Full Circle team, we are passionate about mental health and working to not only break down stigma around mental illness but to see to it that there are resources available in our community. We are proud of the impact of the LRP program and the contributions our students make to their schools and community!
Since we are in a Breakfast Club kind of mood now, we will leave you with our thanks, a reminder to challenge stereotypes, an invitation to get to know people in your community in an authentic way and a quote from the film itself :
“You see us as you want to see us—in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…and an athlete…and a basket case…a princess…and a criminal…”
~Tia Argue & Denise Racz LRP