GEMS Education Prioritizes Positive Mental Health of Students

GEMS Education Prioritizes Positive Mental Health of Students

The GEMS Network focuses on Students’ wellbeing on the occasion of Children’s Mental Health Week with a vast array of student-led initiatives, and also offering school support to the students.

A mental health and wellbeing initiative has taken priority in schools from myriad student-led and peer-to-peer initiatives to school-wide awareness campaigns and activities designed to offer support to all community members, not merely during Children’s Mental Health Week, February 7-13, but permanently, 365 days a year.

Teen Mental Health First Aiders

A high number of GEMS schools have turned to the ‘Teen Mental Health First Aiders’ programme to empower their students. One is GEMS Cambridge International School – Dubai (CIS), whose students have, for the past two years, had the opportunity to take part in this daylong certified training course run by a licensed psychology centre.

Once trained, students meet the school’s counsellor weekly to arrange wellbeing-related activities for the school community, including assembly talks, readings during lessons on a topic of class interest, and awareness slides for display around school. Students also write mental health-related articles that are published on the school’s internal platform, ‘CIS News’.

Most significantly, students who have completed the Mental Health Frist Aid course actively support fellow students during break times to help them build self-esteem and self-confidence, as well as initiating friendship groups.

They keep a log of all interventions they make so the school counsellor can guide them, as needed. They also liaise with Heads of Year to deliver their work. And, in the event that a child needs a more in-depth intervention, the Mental Health First Aiders approach the school counsellor to discuss what has been done before handing over.

The initiative has proven very popular among both students and parents, with the number of trained Mental Health First Aiders growing from an initial eight students to the present 18 students, all in Years 11-13 and all studying Psychology as a subject.

Friendship clubs, peer mentoring and social groups

GEMS International School – Al Khail (GIS) recently launched its Friendship Club, an extracurricular activity designed to support students who are struggling to make connections. Identified students are invited to join the club, where they have the opportunity to meet to discuss initiatives around enhancing friendships and social connections. As a result, students have formed friendships and developed plans to run playground games for all students.

At the same school, the student council has created peer mentoring and peer social groups, working in collaboration with the school’s student support services team to identify students who may benefit from support from peers on both an academic and social emotional level.

Referrals are made via parents/teacher/peers and students are also able to make self-referrals. The peer mentoring aspect of the initiative is for academic support, whereas the social groups are focused on building meaningful relationships with peers. The groups are all being launched during Children’s Mental Health Week.

Upstrive wellbeing app

This third-party wellbeing app is being used at several GEMS schools with great success. It allows students to log their emotions on a daily basis and receive advice on how to manage their feelings as well as guidance on how to reach out for help.

At GEMS Cambridge International School – Dubai, where Upstrive has been used for the past year, the app has helped the school’s Heads of Year as well as Learning Managers to understand their students’ needs and intervene where required, involving the school counsellor as necessary.

Students also have an option to reach out directly to the school counsellor, which has proven very useful for those who are suffering and struggling to express their needs. Along with the app, the school has also set up a dedicated email account, to which students can send messages to voice their concerns in private.

More and more students are using the app and taking advantage of having a safe place to share when they are feeling compromised. The outcome has been positive, with ever greater numbers of students ready to speak about their wellbeing and draw on the support available to them.

Wellbeing newsletter

Senior students at GEMS Winchester School – Dubai have joined forces with the school’s Student Council and teachers to put together a wellbeing newsletter. The Assistant Head Student for Wellbeing collates the articles, videos, advice and other pieces of content submitted by students and staff to put together the newsletter, which is then published on the WSD Student Voice website (created by students, for students). Two editions have been issued so far, with a third in the pipeline.

Mindful Monday and ‘I care and I listen’

At GEMS Founders School – Dubai, Mindful Monday has been running for the past five years. Simple yet effective, the initiative sees students attend different kinds of mindfulness-focused activity every week on a Monday, such as breathing exercises that enhance their mental wellbeing.

At the same school, the ‘I care and I listen’ initiative, now in its second year, sees all teachers who have completed Safeguarding Level 2 training – along with 10 school leaders who have completed Safeguarding Level 3 – awarded badges to attach to their lanyards displaying the words ‘I care and I listen’.

The purpose of these badges is to inform students that these are trusted individuals with whom they can share their concerns should they require any support beyond the usual academic guidance provided by teachers.

The effectiveness of these strategies and initiatives are reflected in the school’s numerous accolades, having been awarded the Optimus Well-being Award from 2019 to 2022 as well as the SENDIA Inclusion Award from 2019 to 2022.

GroWell programme

The wellbeing programme, known as GroWell, developed at GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis (WSO) sees students taught the five core skills adapted from CASEL; self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making.

Lessons focus on different scenarios and situations, with students prompted to share their opinions on ways to manage each of these. The scenarios are also used to promote and normalise accessing counselling support and, when needed, external support as well.

Radio OOB

Students at Our Own English High School – Sharjah (Boys) launched their own radio station, Radio OOB, in November 2018. Shows are broadcast during break time, lasting 20 minutes, and cover popular topics decided on by students.

Content includes segments dedicated to important wellbeing-related awareness campaigns on subjects such as anti-bullying, as well as current affairs and campus news. Radio OOB is also a platform for students to express themselves and collaborate with like-minded, creative people. The whole community eagerly looks forward to this break-time edutainment programme.

Mental health resources for students of determination

At The Cambridge High School – Abu Dhabi, the Head of Inclusion has created a virtual room that offers students of determination and their parents various resources and materials to support their mental health.

These support materials are shared with the school’s Parent Support Group and also stored in the virtual room for parents to revisit as needed. The programme has been running since September 2020, and the Parent Support Group has grown from 15 to 35 in just three months.

Big Brother/Sister programme

GEMS Al Barsha National School has launched a Big Brother/Sister programme where students actively participate in and lead all international calendar days and events pertaining to mental health. School counsellors meet with students and facilitate meetings to discuss plans for awareness days together with the student leadership team. In Post-16, students requesting academic support are paired with fellow students.

As a result of the school’s initiatives, students have found a safe place to express their feelings, with more and more secondary students taking advantage of the support provided by counsellors.

Students also continue to advocate for positive mental health long after awareness days and events, with students indicating an increase in self-confidence after being empowered to provide mental wellbeing support for their peers.

News Source: Dubai PR Network

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