Poor engagement and greater absences from school are some of the effects of mental health on primary school students, says Riverside Primary School deputy principal Fiona Philson.
“Attendance isn’t about data or bottoms on seats it’s about what does it take to get these kids engaged and be at school? The answer is to do with mental health,” Ms Philson said.
“I become frustrated because we can’t get services to support these kids because they don’t fit the right criteria. In the meanwhile, you end up with a non-attender. Until they get to high school not much kicks in.
“There is a genuine gap that needs to be filled to support these children now so they can be successful at a younger age.”
When Ms Philson noticed a gap in mental health support for struggling children, a new Peel Youth Services program launched aiming to help that exact age group.
The pilot program called Choyces, run at Riverside Primary School for one term, taught students from Year 4 to Year 6 about mental health, healthy relationships, body image, gratitude, well-being and emotional regulation.
Peel Youth Services facilitator Michelle Barry said the lessons were making children more aware of how their feelings impacted them.
“With primary school kids it’s just bringing awareness of what’s happening in their lives or how they’re feeling,” she said.
“It’s a base to get them ready for the high school years.
“We tell them it’s normal to feel emotions like being angry or sad but if that continues teaching them to reach out because kids don’t know.”
Without programs like this, Ms Barry said it was difficult for kids to learn how to be mentally healthy.
There is a genuine gap that needs to be filled to support these children now so they can be successful at a younger age.
Riverside Primary School deputy principal Fiona Philson
Ms Philson said she hoped programs like this could become a priority in every primary school in Mandurah.
“We need another chaplain and psychologist because one is not enough for these kids so this program is so important for the students,” she said.
“We need to get to a point where there is a program like this that is well promoted and accepted in all primary schools.”
“We found in the primary school they have such high numbers of students that there’s a lot of responsibility put on the psychologist or chaplain. A lot of schools only have one chaplain for a few days a week,” Peel Youth Services facilitator Sasha Dargaville added.
“This is my first time running a program in the primary school and it has opened my eyes to there being little support.
“With a program like this, the teachers and chaplain are able to take components from it they can use in everyday schooling especially around well-being.”