Melbourne Girls Grammar was recently in the Sunday Age’s Innovation in Education feature with a focus on total student wellbeing as an essential part of education to improve a range of outcomes.
Wellbeing Coach Emma Grant with an MGGS student
The importance of wellbeing is percolating society. The Federal Government has, for a number of years, highlighted the importance of mental health and wellbeing in its policies, and implemented initiatives such as MindMatters and KidsMatter.
Jan Van Velsen, previous national manager of KidsMatter Primary, says these initiatives were groundbreaking and very successful, but focused more on mental health than wellbeing. To address the perceived imbalance, she founded the not-for-profit organisation Wellbeing in Schools Australia, which works collaboratively with and supports school communities in building a strategic approach to health and wellbeing.
Van Velsen believes that “there is an integral connection between health and wellbeing and quality educational outcomes. Children remain engaged at school and stay for the duration of their schooling, and behavioural issues decrease in the classroom.”
There’s a holistic scaffolding around every girl that’s going to follow her for the rest of her schooling life and beyond, and give her the independence and confidence to face challenges and adversity.
Emma Grant, Wellbeing Coach
Van Velsen says that schools are recognising the longterm advantages of incorporating wellbeing practices, especially for marginalised children, and programs should be supported financially and strategically.
“One in six children live below the poverty line, and one in four has witnessed violence against a parent. We’re still seeing significant challenges with schools disciplining behavioural issues and not understanding that the behaviour is usually a symptom of an issue that’s unresolved in the child’s life. When children experience grief, loss and trauma they need support. When initiatives like this are funded we see a much bigger uptake by school communities, and that benefits the child, their family and the school. It also benefits the country economically because by providing a safe, supportive environment children are less likely to leave school early and find themselves within the justice system, which is a huge expense.”
Since its inception, WISA has trained over 2000 wellbeing practitioners from schools around the country. Wodonga Senior Secondary School established a dedicated wellbeing team of five to help support it students. The voluntary service engages with students individually or in groups to offer relevant support to help them make positive changes.
This year, Melbourne Girls Grammar revamped its senior years’ program, that now comprises Years 9 to 12. A new purpose-built facility supports their wellbeing needs with a learning commons, silent study spaces, and facilities for relaxation and exercise. A new timetable encourages independence in learning and time management. Five wellbeing coaches work with students one-on-one or in groups on subjects ranging from time and stress management to sport to body image and mindfulness.
Coach Emma Grant says the school is already seeing significant changes. “We’ve invested in this innovative and holistic program because we recognise the significance of social, emotional and physical health. It’s not a one-size-fits-all program. We’re helping students find their individual strengths and interests and they’re thriving. They know that the sole focus isn’t on academic performance; we value wellbeing as much.”
Grant says wellbeing is no longer considered ‘alternative’ or a buzzword. “People are starting to take a serious look at what wellbeing actually is. Even workplaces are considering the wellbeing needs of their employees.
“At MGGS, there’s a holistic scaffolding around every girl that’s going to follow her for the rest of her schooling life and beyond, and give her the independence and confidence to face challenges and adversity. By being problem solvers, adaptive, creative and collaborative they will adapt their careers as needed. We want our girls to be resilient and confident in their decisions so they can face whatever life throws at them.”
The Sunday Age, p. 15, 15 October 2017