A school-based venture to boost mental health and show that we are “better together” is still going strong in the face of the challenges of separation and isolation brought on by the COVID pandemic. The Head Strong movement, initiated in March 2020, in tandem with the Better Together initiative continues to spread its powerful messages through 11 schools in the Horizon School Division. 

Head Strong has its roots with a one day mental health conference for students held in March 2020 at Bruno School. The day brought students from 11 schools together to share experiences, learn about the impact of positive decision making, and celebrate their strengths together. Ironically, it was the last major event that brought multiple schools together in the division before the pandemic lockdowns began.

Proudly sporting their “Better Together” t-shirts that cleverly pair up common “go-togethers” as a reminder that there is strength in relying on each other, students went back to their home schools to face a world that would change beyond their imaging. 

However, rather than let their message wither, students from those schools continued to meet virtually, and they took on challenges to continue spreading the idea that maintaining mental health is an exercise that need not be done alone.

Horizon school counsellor, Carla Jule, who was instrumental at that inaugural conference, worked with school staffs and students to maintain the energy and initiative. Following the conference, Jule and fellow counsellor and co-organizer Erika Charette, met with the group on a weekly basis with their “Better Together Tuesdays.”

“We’d do a Google Meet with them just to keep everyone connected,” explains Jule. “So whoever wanted to come on would meet. We usually had about 20 or 30 students who would join us.”

Since the new year, the group has met five times to keep the energy going with an eye to creating some goals that would keep the message of breaking down mental health stigma on the front lines. Through all of those calls was Deb McNabb of Better Together, the Battlefords based initiative. McNabb shared the organization’s successes and kept the Horizon students apprised of happenings throughout western Canada. 

The leaders also helped guide the students in manageable and COVID-friendly goals for their own schools and communities. In Annaheim School, for example, the target was to dress the entire student body in Better Together T-shirts. Along with promoting kindness and supportive behaviours in the school, the group approached local businesses and service organizations to bolster their efforts. Thanks to donations from Doepker Industries and a host of other generous individuals, along with a “Be Kind” grant from SaskTel, the students are happily awaiting shirts, one for each of the 90 students in the school.

Muenster School followed suit by approaching the school’s student and community councils to provide shirts for Grade 7 to 12 students. They are also embarking on a rock decorating initiative.

“Another challenge Deb McNabb said schools in North Battleford are doing is a painted rock challenge. All the kids paint a rock with a kind message and a picture on it. The kids take the rocks all around the community and put them on trails, schools, and homes.” 

People can relocate the rocks, take pictures with them, and generally spread positive messages and energy sparked by the students. 

McNabb also challenged each school to have a representative present the mayor of their communities with a “Better Together” shirt and tell them about their program. In Humboldt Public School, the task fell to Grade 8 student Katheryn Coppens. She met Mayor Michael Behiel to present him one of the 11 shirts provided by Better Together. In fact, City Council members each purchased a shirt and sported them at the April Council meeting. Student representatives from the other communities similarly made presentations to their respective mayors. Schools from Wakaw, Cudworth, Viscount, Bruno, Humboldt, Lanigan, Lake Lenore, Muenster, Annaheim, Englefeld, and St. Brieux are part of the collective. 

In a year where it’s been too easy to feel disconnected and separated, the Head Strong movement in its 11 communities has been actively working to let everyone know that we’re better together. The students are anxiously awaiting a time when they can gather once again, this time in person, to continue their inspiring work.