BOW VALLEY – A new arts program focused on student mental health to relieve stress and anxiety, boost self-esteem, improve confidence and combat isolation will be offered in three area schools.
The program will see students meet with artsPlace artist Libby Amber Pryor online for arts instruction and Right From The Start (RFTS) success coach Megan Jennix takes students outside to connect with nature through art.
“It's really about teaching mental wellness concepts in a way that is creative and heartfelt,” said Nicole Fougère the program director of artsPlace. “It's also a professional development program. It helps the Right From The Start facilitators work with artsPlace artists to co-create lessons so that they're not alone in this work. They're actually supporting each other in developing their capacity to reach kids.”
The pilot program has already seen students take rubbings of tree bark and tree stumps and use the textured papers to create works of art this winter.
The RFTS program promotes positive mental health by addressing a diverse range of topics such as anxiety, self-esteem, social skill development and managing emotions. The program has four RFTS facilitators and three artists, Fougère said.
“Nature has its different seasons and cycles, just like people do,” said Pryor in a media release. “By looking at nature, we can learn mental wellness strategies to care for ourselves. It’s important to have a balance between rest time and being active in our lives. Same with our emotions. It’s OK if we feel sad one day and then feel differently the next. It’s only natural.”
The program was able to expand due to a $9,600 donation from the Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation. In collaboration with the RFTS, the program will be offered at Banff Elementary School, Elizabeth Rummel School and Lawrence Grassi Middle School.
The grant helps the programs bring people from artsPlace, RFTS and teachers in the Canadian Rockies Public Schools (CRPS) division together.
“Everyone is feeling their mental health right now and I feel like it's so wise to talk about these things, especially with children,” said Fougère. “The children are really grieving, processing change, becoming resilient as they react to change and this program can support them in those processes.”
Fougère and Mary Weighell, the project manager for RFTS, both applauded the Wim and Nancy Foundation for helping to fund the program.
“The Pauw Foundation is about building a more vibrant, active, and healthy community. Using art to strengthen emotional conversations is brilliant. We’re fortunate in the Bow Valley to have organizations like artsPlace to bring these ideas forward,” said Cathy Geisler, executive director, Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation in a media release.
The Wim and Nancy Pauw Foundation was started in 2013 and is funded by profits from Banff Caribou Properties Ltd. and Banff Lodging Company, to support projects that help the community.
According to a media release, they have $1.4 million this year to disburse to community initiatives.
Weighell said RFTS became involved in December 2020, when a virtual meeting of programmers across the Bow Valley took place to help share strategies at the height of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said a Canmore-based artist, Sam Welsh, and a number of RFTS facilitators began talking about ideas to support one another that led to the start of the program.
“We taught a ton of classes and when that was successful, it made us go ‘hey, we need to keep going.’ We need to find funding and we need to provide an opportunity to have this grow,” Weighell said. “The Pauw Foundation supported us and we’ve been able to expand the program. That relationship has been instrumental in making this happen.”
The program will align with the curriculum and focus on the skills and interests of teachers and different age groups.
“We hope that the children are having a beautiful spark in the middle of their school day, a spark of mental wellness, a spark of creativity. A spark of artistry is a spark of self-esteem and we imagine that they'll carry that spark with them throughout their whole day and hopefully their whole lives.”