Students at York District School in WA make a Be You sign on the school playing field
Nearly 100 kilometres east of Perth, the staff and students of York District High School (YDHS) are getting ready for Be You Week in October, an annual celebration of conversation, connection and action around the topic of mental health.
This year marks the school’s fourth celebration since they signed up for Be You. Today, Be You Week and all its activities are part of the fabric of this small Western Australian town.
The vibe and the feeling of the day is one of fun, people working together and having a good time.
“It’s a nice way to bring our whole school community together.”
Getting started with Be You
What Nicole and her team have achieved over the last four years is nothing short of remarkable, particularly given their regional location.
With a population of 2393, York is part of the Wheatbelt, a region of 75,000 people scattered over more than 200 towns and settlements.
It‘s a beautiful place, known for its springtime profusion of wildflowers and yellow canola. But, like many regional towns in Australia, York faces a range of mental health and wellbeing risks, too.
The YDHS team were all too aware of these challenges; Be You offered a unique opportunity to reimagine the school as a mentally healthy learning community where staff and students could thrive.
Nicole led the initial push to sign the school up for Be You, taking on the role of Action Team Leader and gathering support among her colleagues.
She established an Action Team of teachers and school support staff who would work together to implement Be You. Over the last four years, that team has included the school chaplain, the school psychologist, Aboriginal educators, senior staff and teachers from across the school’s early childhood, middle primary and high school divisions.
“Our initial meetings were a lot about establishing a team with a good representation of staff across our school."
The next step was to start developing an Action Plan to identify where the school’s Be You journey should begin.
Even in those early days, Nicole and her team wanted to look at mental health as a whole-of-community challenge, rather than something that only happened inside the school walls.
With guidance from their Be You Consultant, the Action Team surveyed staff, students and families to find out which of the five Be You domains would best meet the community’s immediate needs.
Mentally Healthy Communities, with its emphasis on strong, supportive relationships that give everyone the opportunity to achieve their best possible mental health, came out on top.
Students and teachers from York District High School.
Creating a mentally healthy community
Guided by the Be You framework and resources, including the Action Team Handbook and regular input from their Be You Consultant, Nicole and her colleagues developed a Be You Action Plan for YDHS. The three concepts underpinning Mentally Health Communities – Understand, Connect and Include – sat at the foundation of their approach.
"We presented to staff on mental health and we organised some staff appreciation notes and chocolates and gave them out."
“We also offered some professionally run yoga classes for staff after school.”
More formally, staff engaged with online sessions and accredited professional learning opportunities delivered by Be You and partner organisations including Black Dog Institute and Regional Men’s Health.
These included Gatekeeper Suicide Prevention Training and Youth Mental Health First Aid training; postvention planning that would prepare them to respond in the event of a critical incident; and professional development opportunities, including anxiety and mental health webinars and attending the annual Be You virtual conference.
Students in years 7–9 participated in teen mental health training, and students and staff worked together to create a designated spot, called The Blue Table, where students could meet and talk about what was worrying them.
“It was designed at the time as a place where students could sit and check in and chat with one another during breaks,” Nicole says.
“They helped design the layout of the table and the seats and helped paint it, and it was built by the York Men’s Shed, so that was a great community connection.”
Parents and carers were also part of the Be You vision: They received regular communications about the school’s Be You activities and were also invited to attend an online Smiling Mind meditation session.
By keeping families connected to the school’s mental health goals, Nicole and her colleagues hoped that conversations about mental wellbeing would continue beyond the school grounds.
And of course, there was Be You Week, which now takes place every October alongside Western Australia’s Mental Health Week. Over the years, Be You Week has delivered everything from headspace workshops and giant board games to sensory playdough and music activities.
It’s festive, fun and grounded in mental wellbeing, and it invites the entire YDHS community to get involved.
“Mental health is everyone’s responsibility, so it’s about having those conversations with as many people as possible along the way."
What’s next for YDHS?
Today, the YDHS Action Team are preparing for the next stage of their Be You journey. Based on the results of a second staff, students and families survey, and with ongoing input from their Be You Consultant, they’ve identified both Family Partnerships and Early Support as their next areas of focus.
They’ve also been awarded nearly $15,000 from the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal to improve social and emotional wellbeing within the school through the use of teacher training and resources.
Previously, they received $5,000 from Holyoake's Wheatbelt Suicide Prevention Project, which supported this year’s NAIDOC Week, RUOK? Day and Be You Week activities.
With four years of Be You experience behind them, Nicole and her team are confident in their plans to move forward. After all, they’ve already seen the positive impacts of Be You at their school.
“I think using the skills that we’ve got from some of the training has definitely helped us respond to the needs of individual students,” Nicole says.
“Being able to speak with them and know the right things to say and support them by linking them with the school psychologist or other resources is important for our kids.”
Become a Be You learning community
Register for Be You today and gain access to a Be You Consultant who can your help school or service take its first steps towards becoming a mentally healthy learning community.
Students from York District High School