During the seven years Ryan Charest has been a counsellor at École Phoenix Middle School his primary goal has been to improve mental health services for students.
He was involved with an initiative to bring counsellors from The Foundry, Kwakiutl District Council Health Centre (KDC) and Laichwiltach Family Life Society in house, so kids wouldn’t have to go out of their way when they needed to seek help.
Recently, with the help of art teacher, Shannon Lim, and a group of eager students, Charest has helped spearhead the creation of a wellness journal, aimed at helping a wide variety of kids who might be going through a tough time.
Phoenix had been spending money on a number of self-help books, none of which catered to each student’s specific needs.
“We needed something kids could test to see what worked for them,” Charest said. “The book couldn’t be triggering, or in your face – it needed to be subtle – something to give these kids some really good ideas to cop without being on their phone.”
The counsellor had a slew of ideas – but not a lot of talent when it came to art – so he approached Lim about helping out.
“Right away we agreed that this had to be a book for kids by kids,” he said.
The first two Charest asked for help from were Grae Long, and Avery McSherry.
He said the choice was a no-brainer, as the two students are both very artistic, and would take the project seriously.
To help convince them to take part, Charest dangled an opportunity to get out of gym class on Fridays.
The pair were sold.
On the first Friday of September, Charest set a big pile of books about subjects ranging from anxiety, depression, self-esteem, grief and loss in front of them, and asked Long and McSherry to pick the activities contained within which might best help their classmates.
“We kind of mish-mashed the books together into this little book, which I thought was pretty cool,” McSherry said.
They were also asked to provide illustrations which could be used for the interactive journal.
“We both like to draw, and do arts and crafts,” Long said.
With times changing, tastes have certainly changed, McSherry pointed out.
“So it’s good to get a younger point-of-view, rather than two forty-year-olds working on a kids book. Having younger people work on it makes it a little more relatable.”
Though Long and McSherry contributed the lion’s share of illustrations, Lim reached out to over 30 Phoenix students, who also made their mark on the journal.
“They were from different grades, different backgrounds and interests – it shows a really diverse picture of the students in our school, which is nice,” Lim said.
Charest is quick to acclaim all who took part.
“I’m impressed by the level of talent the kids have, and the passion they have once they find something they’re interested in.
“These two (Long and McSherry) don’t want a lot of praise for it, but you can see the excitement they get when they do talk about it.”
The current completed version of the book has been handed out to five classes in the school, where all students are completing the activities – like colouring, journalling and illustrating – during their free time.
Included within the cover of the journal are all the apparatus one needs to use the book.
“We wanted it to be a whole package,” Charest said. “That’s why it’s got the pencil, it’s got the eraser, and it’s got the mini pack of pencil crayons in there.”
The Foundry is interested in the journal, and have ordered copies for its waiting room. Charest said there have also been meetings with KDC to see if the book would work their its mental health support systems.
He is hoping the book is useful for school counsellors.
“Kids are more open to come (to counselling),” he said.”But we’re having a hard time getting kids to talk, so hopefully this will be a stepping stone of getting used to sharing.”
When Grade 6 students come to Phoenix next year, Charest hopes there is one of these journals on each of their desks.
“We’re going to start version two, and by the end of Christmas, our goal is to pump another (book) out.”