Educating to ‘save lives’


Graphic by Lena Yang
Graphic by Lena Yang

After receiving $12,000 in funding from Green Shield Canada (GSC), Wilfrid Laurier University’s faculty of education will begin to offer teachers at the university the chance to earn a post-degree certificate in mental health.

Consisting of seven modules, ranging from introducing mental health issues in the classroom, to discussing disruptive behaviour and psychotic disorders in the classroom, the program aims to educate teachers on mental health issues and raise awareness of its presence within classrooms.

“The program is recognition to responses by teachers not prepared to deal with mental health issues for students in classrooms,” said Carolyn FitzGerald, an associate professor within the faculty of education at Laurier and also a co-author of the program.

“It will provide the possibility to assist teachers in understanding mental health as it relates to the environment around them.”

Teachers will be able to obtain the certificate starting next year.

Kimberly Hird-Bingeman, another co-author of the program, sees the certificate as a direct response to what teachers asked to be aware of in the classroom setting.

“The program is coming from an increase in an understanding of the different needs in the classroom. Teachers wanted information on mental health to better equip themselves for different kinds of needs of students,” Hird-Bingeman said.

“The program is two-fold: on one hand it is about gaining an understanding of the reality of a classroom being filled with different student needs, as well to challenge the stigma of mental health.”

While still a work in progress, FitzGerald still believes it’s a “great idea.”

“It’s a seven-unit program that is extremely flexible in terms of working around teachers’ schedules. It will provide the hands-on experience and knowledge in terms of what teachers need to know and be aware of in regards to mental health.”

Looking at how the program will work, FitzGerald explained it would be half online and half in-class.

“The first unit will be available online starting in January, with the next six being offered starting in the spring. We think the combination of online and in-class will allow for teachers to engage with the material that is mindful of their schedules, but also, for them, the chance to look at case studies to enrich their understanding of mental health,” she said. “It will provide the education, skills and knowledge they need.”

Anisa Taraj, the program advisor at GSC, spoke in a press release about the importance of teachers engaging with mental health in the classroom.

“Making teachers aware of the warning signs, and most importantly, developing their skills for working with youth in the classroom can literally save lives,” Taraj was quoted as saying.

Speaking about the support received from GSC, FitzGerald expressed her appreciation.

“We are truly grateful for their support. Their donation will make it possible for this program to operate here at Laurier,” she said.

“It’s a phenomenal partnership,” said Hird-Bingeman. “It enables us to do promotion of issues like mental health in education.”

Looking forward with the program, FitzGerald sees great potential for what it can offer to teachers and students.

“Looking at years to come, we hope to modify and extend the program eventually to on-campus partners, such as dons, to help them understand the issues beyond just the classroom, but as it applies to campus life,” she said.

Hird-Bingeman believes the program promotes the sort of thinking needed to move forward with issues like mental health.

“We hope to get the word out that mental health is a real social phenomena that affects everybody. The earlier we can focus on the issues of mental health in students lives’, the better we can recognize the issues of each student and offer the support needed to be implemented in the classroom to help students out.”

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