Helping hand to stay connected

Berwick college students Trent and Shannon with chaplain Frank Jetmar ahead of a Values 4 Life seminar. 169606 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

No student will feel alone under a Berwick school’s extensive well-being arm.
A team of social workers, a chaplain and a registered nurse aim for each of Berwick College’s 1600 students to connect to at least one ‘significant other’.
The ConnectED program is a response to the dizzying rates of domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse and the infamous suicide cluster in Casey.
At the school, there has been a heavy collective grief over several staff and students who have died in recent years.
Mental health and resilience are emerging as a priority area for schools, says acting assistant principal Alison Birkett.
Statistically, about one in four people are subject to domestic violence. That equates to 400 students at the college who could be traumatised.
Last year, the wellbeing team helped 400 students through personal issues.
“Many of our young people live lives of stress,” Ms Birkett said.
“Research indicates that stress for young people changes the development of the brain and hinders learning.”
There’s also proactive programs to equip young people for these hurdles. Each Year 8 student attends a Values 4 Life series to promote mental health.
Social workers aren’t just stuck in the office but seek out bonds with students. They earn trust on camps, expeditions and through mentoring Year 12s.
Historically, kids at this age are loathe to self-report.
But Berwick College’s programs are tuning students into seeking help. Likewise, peers will report their peers, Ms Birkett says.
The wellbeing program was a finalist at the 2016 Victorian Education Excellence Awards.
“We would be absolutely lost without them,” Ms Birkett said.
“They’re a unique group of people.”