Chilliwack’s School District works to ensure mental health among student body

SD 33 is equipping students with academic, mental tools needed to create success in adulthood

Starting with students in kindergarten, School District 33 is working to implement its mental health strategic plan, which will help better equip the district’s grads as they transition from public education to post-secondary or the workforce. (File photo)

Five out of five people have mental health, says David Manuel, Chilliwack’s principal of student services, and it’s the District’s goal to enhance the mental health literacy of all of the District’s students from kindergarten to Grade 12.

The District’s mandate is that every student becomes a graduate prepared for opportunities beyond graduation, which is no longer strictly academic based, and hasn’t been for some time.

“Like P.E., we want to incorporate and embed mental health (information) in education,” explained Manuel, so School District 33 created a strategic plan that would implement its vision for enhancing mental health literacy and social emotional learning across the student spectrum.

READ MORE: Chilliwack School District graduating more students than ever before

“Mental health and wellness is not illness,” said Brenda Calendino, the district’s high incidence coordinator. Creating this distinction for children is important, but often a challenge because so much of the language used today is self-diagnosing or stigmatizing. “Everyone needs this understanding.

Currently, almost every district in British Columbia is trying to land on the same language usage surrounding mental health because we’re using the wrong words, says Calendino.

Students will say they have “test anxiety,” Calendino explains. “But that’s the wrong word. It’s stress, which can even be considered good mental health before a test because it create an optimal level of performance. We want to normalize (appropriate levels of) stress, and give students the tools to know what good mental health is and how to recognize the early warning signs.”

The idea, says Manuel, is that teachers know how to teach. Regardless of the topic, if you provide them with the correct information and tools, teachers can distill information to the level their students need, and incorporate that information into the curriculum.

“Like anything else, mental fitness can be taught,” said Manuel.

Designed around resources created by Stan Kutcher, the mental health strategic plan is research-based, and grounded in Canada. “The time is right,” said Calendino. “We were ready and the response has been absolutely amazing.

READ MORE: Chilliwack school board plans for an integrated arts school for grades 8-12 at old UFV location

Not only are students getting the accurate language to understand and talk through their (mental health questions), but they’re being equipped with the tools and language to bring those discussions home, where they can share them with their family members.

And although there’s a focus on high-school students right now because adolecents in puberty are the most at risk for mental health issues, the plan is to extend the curriculum throughout all grades, and all levels of support.

“Even our EAs and staff are being trained,” said Manuel. “And they’re leaving the training saying, ‘I can do this!’ It’s so exciting (to see) we have what it takes (go do this across the board).

“We’re teaching a holistic way of approaching education and addressing the whole person,” continued Manuel. ”When our (students) leave our schools, they’re going to be ready for real life.”

For more information about the Chilliwack School District (SD 33), or the Board, please visit their website at


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