Notre Dame High School: Supporting mental health one bench at a time

A young boy poses for a photo holding a drill next to the wooden bench.
Notre Dame High School students helped redevelop the courtyard at St. George Elementary School in Westboro. Provided Photo.

By Krysha Jaide Lopez

At St. George elementary school in Westboro, the importance of mental health and wellness is greatly advocated for. It inspired a beautification project that transformed their school into a place of mindfulness and reflection.

With the partnership of St. George and Notre Dame High School, the staff and students alike recently finished the redevelopment of the elementary school’s courtyard in hopes of reminding students to prioritize their health and giving the school a fresh new look.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, schools across Canada were forced to switch to online schooling for public safety. This drastic change in education was detrimental to the health of students. The lack of time outdoors had already been a concern; however, with the added stress of change, remote learning, and less socializing with peers, many families found their mental health had taken a turn for the worse.

The Ottawa Catholic School Board took action by constructing a “Student Health and Mental Health Toolkit.” It contained coping mechanisms and strategies to use in times of stress to ameliorate students’ health. Students and teachers were also strongly encouraged to practice these strategies in the classroom. The Student Mental Health Toolkit also inspired the school-wide integration of the Indigenous 7 Grandfather Teachings.

Two wooden benches in a work shop.
The new benches installed at St. George Elementary School. Provided photo.

“Each class had sessions with the consultant on the grandfather teachings, and each grade picked one of the teachings,” said Shannon Sullivan, resource teacher at St. George. 

Afterwards, the students used their newfound knowledge to create artwork to represent each of the teachings, and teachers chose the pieces that best represented the teaching assigned. The St. George administration reached out to Steven Watzeboeck, who teaches the Students Achieving Workplace Skills (SAWS). He was asked to bring the chosen artwork and additional pieces to life. He and his students worked to carve the pieces, which were then sent and installed at St. George. From this blossomed the addition of a peace path, a pollinator plant meadow, signs made with the St. George students’ artwork, and a brand new bench. 

With the inspiration of their school mascot, St. George named their new harmonious space Dragon’s Meadow.

A wooden sign.
A motivational sign that was installed near the bench. Provided Photo.

Initially started four years ago, the project had been been held up by remote learning and the rise in wood prices during the pandemic. However, Sullivan found working with Watzenboeck and his students to be a fantastic experience for both herself and the children of St. George. She saw the opportunity as extremely beneficial in helping the children connect with the community and the Earth. Students were truly involved in the learning and betterment of their school and their school family. 

Not only was Notre Dame a big help in the project, but donations from the community were also made to help with the purchase of materials and plants.

The creation of the pieces were not only a collaboration between two schools, but it became a representation of the importance of unity and grit when tackling mental health itself. Although the pandemic had been an obstacle with the project, the community has repeatedly proven that they are more than capable of persevering and working together to create something beautiful.

Krysha Jaide Lopez is a grade 11 student at Notre Dame High School.

Leave a comment