Health ministry’s ‘wellness check-in’ rolls into Bridgeport High School

STUDENTS at Bridgeport High were given tips to deal with mental stress as the second in a series of wellness check-in sessions, hosted by the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education, rolled into the Portmore, St Catherine-based school on Wednesday.

The wellness check-in is designed to encourage positive practices during stressful situations by students.

The session at Bridgeport High was led by Minister of Health and Wellness Dr Christopher Tufton, who is taking his team to several schools across the island as part of the ministry’s School Mental Health Literacy Programme.

The programme is intended to promote mental wellness among the nation’s youth and reduce the stigma associated with mental challenges.

During Wednesday’s engagement, Tufton encouraged the students to build their self-esteem and identify accountability partners who can assist them in manoeuvring challenges experienced in their lives.

He shared some of the stressful situations experienced as a teenager and gifted the students with stress balls.

The provision of the balls forms part of stress-management techniques designed to help the youngsters cope with challenges when they are feeling overwhelmed.

A ‘wellness bench’ was also handed over to the school and represents what Tufton called a ‘safe place’.

“It is a symbol of wellness… and when you have any little challenge, you can think it through. Anytime you feel down, alone or under pressure, the solution is to find your safe space,” said Tufton.

“When it comes to stress… when you can’t bother and you feel like you’re going to fight because you are being bullied, always remember that that’s not the best that you can do,” added Tufton.

The school’s principal, Beverley Harris, said students struggling with mental health issues and trauma have been afforded the opportunity to meet with director of child and adolescent mental health in the Ministry of Health, Dr Judith Leiba, and guidance counsellors.

“We have [identified] some students who are struggling with, [among other things], deaths in their families,” said Harris.

She noted that the health ministry and the guidance team is already providing support to some 25 to 30 students at the school.

In the meantime, Minister of Education and Youth Fayval Williams used Wednesday’s wellness check-in to confirm that Bridgeport High is to be taken off the shift system by the 2024/25 academic year.

This move will impact 1,626 students, of whom 900, who are in grades seven to nine, are now on the morning shift.

The remaining youngsters are rostered for evening classes, while sixth-form students have an entire day of class.

Bridgeport High is the second of 32 schools being removed from the shift system. This follows Black River High in St Elizabeth, for which the system’s removal takes effect at the start of the 2023/24 academic year, in September.

According to Williams, the education ministry continues to move apace with its mission to remove the shift model from all schools now using it.

She argued that the ministry wants to move away from the shift system especially because of the stress it causes on our students.

“Students in shift schools don’t get that many hours of contact time with teachers, because their shift has to be shortened, and the teachers and principals are under stress as well,” said Williams as she noted that a contract has been signed for the construction of 11 classrooms, student restrooms, two storerooms, two science labs, a workshop and a wheelchair lift station to allow the school to move to a single shift.

Construction is estimated to take 10 months.

Responding to the announcement by Williams, the principal said the teachers have welcomed the institution’s planned expansion.

“We have 103 teachers, including the principal, three guidance counsellors, one dean of discipline and three vice principals,” noted Harris.

She indicated that 59 teachers are scheduled for the evening shift and 44 in the morning.

“Because the afternoon shift is where we have the technical/vocational courses for the different areas,” said Harris.