ARARAT - Marian College has been recognised for its outstanding focus on student mental health and wellbeing at a national awards ceremony.
Assistant principal and head of wellbeing at the school Ros Pretlove, along with student Alicia Patterson attended the event in Canberra at the beginning of November.
Thirteen schools from around the country were officially recognised for their work in promoting mental health in the classroom and the schoolyard.
The presentations included a focus on building resilience and wellbeing strategies to cope with bullying and loss.
Alicia, a year 11 student, gave a five minute presentation on a Cyber Safety Mission Statement the school established as part of its work in the MindMatters initiative.
MindMatters is the leading national mental health initiative for secondary schools.
Its purpose is to helps schools to promote and protect the mental health, resilience and social and emotional wellbeing of all the members of school communities.
MindMatters was so impressed with Alicia's presentation she has been asked to become a Youth Ambassador for MindMatters Victoria.
Mrs Pretlove said the school has worked hard over time to develop a number of programs that demonstrate positive change.
"It was a good celebration and recognition of the number of programs we have put in place over the years but particularly the work we have done since the end of 2010," she said.
Some of the initiatives the school has implemented over time include improved pastoral care and mentoring through a Teacher Adviser Program, a full time school psychologist, Tribal, Leadership, Cyber Safety and SCADE (School and Community Approaches to Drug Education) projects.
"Another example is that we have a very pro-active 'Justice and Democracy' group and a 'Minnie Vinnies' group which empowers students to make decisions and make a difference," Mrs Pretlove said.
"Student empowerment is one of my passions and that is what a lot of these programs are designed to foster," she said.
In 2011 wellbeing referrals at the school were increasingly linked to distress due to 'digitally' delivered abuse and harassment or misuse of technology.
This was an increase from 30 per cent to 80 per cent of referrals in two years.
Following the sharp rise an action research project was established that included talking to all corners of the school community.
The action research project involved asking students, parents and staff what they believe a Cyber Safety Mission Statement should say and the changes to school policy that were needed as part of it.
Mrs Pretlove said the resulting Cyber Safety Mission Statement created by the students is based on mutual trust:
"At Marian College we value equal learning opportunities.
"We believe that with mutual trust, we can achieve innovative and responsible use of modern technology for the benefit of everyone.
"We strive to achieve this in a safe, respectful and welcoming environment."
One of the biggest changes in school policy that came from the discussions and research has been the allowance of students to now not only bring mobile phones to school, but use them in class as educational tools.
"We notice a lot of students don't actually wear watches anymore, they consult their phones for the time and they can use their phones as a dictionary and research tool while in the classroom," she said.
"This is quite a big turn around from the days when mobile phones were banned or required to be turned off and left in a bag or locker."
Mrs Pretlove said it was important to recognise the rapid growth of technology.
"Whereas in the past parents have been more aware and in control of emerging trends and influences, this time it is the other way round," she said.
"In most cases students know a lot more about the new technology than what their parents do.
Mrs Pretlove said families, students and even police depend on schools to resolve 'after hours'conflict that develops 'on-line' among students.
"This represented a challenge for us as many of the incidents were occurring outside of school and outside of school hours," she said.
"Through the program we hoped to adopt an approach to technology that promotes a safe and responsible use of it."
According to the school, wellbeing referrals linked to distress due to 'digitally' delivered abuse and harassment or misuse of technology make up less than 40 per cent of all referrals in 2012 following the Cyber Safety project.