When we embarked upon our own Positive Education journey in 2012, St Peter’s College was amongst a very small group of pioneer schools that recognised the growing importance of student wellbeing. Since then, the alarming rise in mental illness and suicide amongst school and university age groups has necessarily shifted attitudes towards wellbeing programs. Where they used to be perceived as a desirable extra that existed within a minority of schools, they are now accepted by a majority of schools as an essential part of education. Tragically, in recent weeks, a number of student deaths within Adelaide school communities has brought this issue and these statistics into even sharper focus and further emphasised the need for schools to take action.
Given the changing landscape around youth mental health, parents will no doubt be reassured that, at St Peter’s College, the wellbeing of our students continues to be the priority of all staff. The School has maintained a reputation for being one of the leading schools in the world for wellbeing. This was illustrated by a recent invitation to present, as a best practice school, at the upcoming PESA Australasia conference (Positive Education Schools Association) in Sydney.
Our program is always evolving and improving and there have been a few important changes in recent years.
In the Junior School, since 2012, all lessons, across all subjects and age groups have been able to carry and sustain a wellbeing focus. The Senior School adopted a taught curriculum of positive education lessons (now called wellbeing lessons) and Mr Browning is keen to ensure that important wellbeing concepts are not confined to a few lessons and only delivered by a small group of wellbeing teachers. As a result, the visible wellbeing SEARCH framework has been introduced to professionally develop the knowledge and understanding of all staff in this area. It will also provide teachers with a number of wellbeing-related teaching strategies to ensure that our wellbeing program is visible and has impact across all areas of the School.
Our pastoral care program represents the heartbeat of our wellbeing program. This is where most wellbeing issues are identified and managed. The combination of our Middle Years program and 10 Houses, with dedicated mentors for each small group of boys, represents the ideal structure and environment to focus upon wellbeing. Our boys’ wellbeing will always benefit enormously from having a designated pastoral carer, who knows a boy’s personality, motivations and character well. The mentors have always been the key wellbeing personnel in the School and it is hoped that the SEARCH framework training will enable them to gradually add more positive psychology strategies to the remarkable work that they have always done.
Our aim is for wellbeing to be truly embedded across all areas of the School. The CARE program (Courage, Adaptability, Respect and Empathy), introduced by Mr Scott and delivered by mentors across the School, has become a very important vehicle for addressing and discussing a variety of wellbeing issues around the CARE acronym. Outdoor Education and our program of journeys represent extremely fertile ground for the delivery of key wellbeing concepts. Each year, Mr Bates further grows the wellbeing focus via pre-journey assignments delivered in wellbeing lessons and pastoral care time as well as journey journals which focus upon character strengths, mindfulness, gratitude, teamwork and leadership.
Our student leadership program has also developed significantly in recent years. Character strength questions form a crucial part of our interview and selection process, whilst leadership workshops strongly emphasise the importance of a wellbeing-focussed approach to leadership across all areas of the School.
Mr Eaton is also keen to ensure that all sports coaches and captains grasp the importance of adopting a wellbeing focus whereby the boys’ mood, character and motivation is monitored and managed alongside his performance.
Our Chapel and RAVE program fully embraces positive psychology, as demonstrated by the many character strength references in chapel and at muster, especially around the importance of courage, love and kindness. Our School Chaplain, the Rev’d Dr Theo McCall, has recently submitted an academic paper on “Spirituality” which focuses on positive spirituality and the heightened awareness of the spiritual life through the use of positive psychology techniques.
It is envisaged that our taught program of wellbeing lessons will provide the foundation stones which underpin wellbeing applications across the entire School.
Our wellbeing program may help to reduce the number and intensity of issues our boys face, by increasing awareness, by building greater resilience and by encouraging boys to flourish. That is certainly our hope and intention. However, we know that schools are a microcosm of society and that we will never be immune to the causes of this worrying decline in youth mental health. When boys do show signs that they are struggling to cope or display the early signs of mental ill-health, mentors and Heads of House know to immediately refer these cases to our team of counsellors at St Peter’s College. Our counsellors are all clinical psychologists with a range of experience in specific youth mental health issues. They are the designated and highly qualified experts in the field of mental illness and a vital part of our overall wellbeing program.
If any St Peter’s College student needs support with their mental health, help is available through their Head of House, the School’s counselling service and externally through Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 551 800) and Headspace (1800 650 890).
Head of Wellbeing