Wellness Gardens Providing Students With Connection Over the Summer Months

Wellness Gardens have been built at various Wellington Catholic District School Board sites, thanks to the hard work of our Student Mental Health Services team and our Healthy Active Living Resource Teacher, Peter Glaab.

St. Peter Catholic School, St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic School, and Holy Trinity Catholic School are now homes to the inaugural Wellness Gardens.

“This year, to support our students with their mental health and well-being over the summer months, we planned Wellness Gardens at three different locations. We wanted to support our students in a way that provided in person mental health support, promoted peer connections, that followed COVID-19 protocols, included body movement and was something that research suggests is helpful to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression,” explained Sony Brar Wilmer, Mental Health Lead for Wellington Catholic.

Recognized by School Mental Health Ontario as an exemplary activity to keep students engaged and receiving support over the summer months, each Wellness Garden provides 2 to 3 Mental Health Clinicians, a staff member from the school, community volunteers, and of course all of the tools needed to garden and engage in art-based and nature-based activities.

Being home and generally isolated due to COVID-19 precautions over this past year, the team figured Wellness Gardens would provide an opportunity for students to meet in person and foster positive peer connections, while also building a connection with caring adults in their respective schools and from the school board. The Wellness Gardens allow for the mental health team to deliver mental health interventions in person and in a group setting, providing support to 15 students per group in just two hours.

A total of sixty students have been able to participate in the Wellness Gardens, visiting the garden for two hours each week. Over the summer students not only visited the gardens, but also had a say in the plants they want to pick, the veggies and fruits they want to grow and the design of the Wellness Garden. Peter Glaab, Healthy Active Living Resource Teacher with Wellington Catholic, has been a significant resource on this project to both students and staff, identifying plants and vegetables that would do best in each area. Once the food has grown and is harvested, students are able to take it home to share with their friends and families. Providing the dual purpose of caring and being cared for, the gardens provide a fantastic platform for mental health interventions during these sessions.

“This has really been one of those scenarios of if you build it, they will come; it certainly has taken extensive planning but the more we planned, the more interest we generated,” Brar Wilmer said. “The one week they explored what “bugs them” and bugs in the garden, which essentially looks at triggers, some bugs are just annoying but not harmful, and some can be a shock to the plants system. Once they identified the intrusive or invasive bugs, they looked at ways to nurture the plant to help it grow- and this explored more of the healthy coping that can be used to care for themselves. The gentle and kind ways of caring for ourselves, just as we nurture these plants, how we can also nurture ourselves.”

And the gardens have been welcomed with open arms by both students and their families.

“This has been so helpful and healing for our students” said Brar Wilmer. “When I followed up the with Mental Health Team in July, they reported that students were consistently attending and engaged in each session and parents were reporting that their children were the happiest they have seen them in a very long time.”

While the summer sessions will wrap up at the end of August, Brar Wilmer and her team hope to continue the Wellness Gardens come September and use this as an opportunity to provide support and gentle exposure to the start of the school year.