Peers adolescent support programs being explored for Rainbow schools

RAINBOW DISTRICT—Rainbow District School Board (RDSB) has teamed up with Public Health Sudbury and Districts to pilot a social skills training intervention program. Called PEERS, the Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relationship Skills was developed by the UCLA Jane and Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behaviours for teens with autism spectrum disorder.

The Rainbow Schools PEERS research project is taking place in a Grade 8 classroom with non-autistic students. Facilitators want to determine if the program can be effectively transferred to the classroom setting for the benefit of all students.

“There are many reasons why this research is so important,” said Mary Jago, mental health lead with RDSB. “Students will be given the opportunity to improve social and coping skills, enhance emotional and behavioural well-being and increase awareness about mental health and prevention strategies.  We also hope to address a gap in programming for adolescents with social challenges.”

“Forming and maintaining trusting relationships with teachers, friends, family, and adults is key to students having a sense of belonging and supporting their mental health,” said Dr. Penny Sutcliffe, Medical Officer of Health for Public Health Sudbury and Districts. “We are excited about this partnership’s potential to instill a sense of hope, belonging and purpose amongst students.”

Participating students will take part in 30 to 60 minute lessons during regular classroom hours, four to five days per week for 16 weeks. A trained facilitator and a social coach will use the PEERS curriculum to guide students through exercises and activities.

The program’s effectiveness and applicability for students without autism spectrum disorder will be determined through a variety of methods including pre- and post-assessment data analysis, review of program delivery, participant satisfaction surveys, staff focus groups and information sharing opportunities.

“PEERS aligns well with the Board’s Mental Health Strategic Plan,” said Norm Blaseg, director of education with RDSB. “The Mental Health Strategic Plan aligns with the board’s strategic directions, creating a learning environment where young people become strong, healthy and vibrant individuals without discrimination.”

RDSB adopted its first Mental Health Strategic Plan in September 2018. The plan guides the board’s work by embedding student mental health policy within its strategic planning, raising awareness to decrease stigma and increase the capacity to recognize the signs of mental health problems early and how to access the appropriate intervention. It aids in implementing evidence-informed promotion, prevention, and intervention mental health services to promote mentally healthy classrooms.

It enhances supports for students who are experiencing distress or are in crisis.