The focus on wellbeing and care in schools, particularly over the last five years, has become as important as learning subject content and skills. The emergence of many wellbeing programs, systems, timetable friendly opportunities and dedicated “wellbeing centres” reflects this and while these are all important, measuring the outcomes of these offerings is notoriously difficult.
Open Parachute is an online program that, as its name implies, captures all involved in a student’s wellbeing journey. Parents, teachers, and students themselves all assist to ensure a ‘soft landing’ around issues that involve mental health, relationships, and stress.
Developed by a team of clinical psychologists, program developers, filmmakers and storytellers, Open Parachute provides a targeted approach to wellbeing topics through cleverly curated materials that capitalise on our younger generation’s tendency and ability to connect with video and audio content over written material.
It also offers background data to track a student’s progress, their areas of focus and hot topics, while measuring engagement and tailoring a program for specifically for them moving forward. This is something many schools have struggled to capture in one space before and will be a big driver in developing more targeted and impactful wellbeing programs. Future iterations of the program aim to include a statistical breakdown of student responses, including personal appraisals of the student’s current sense of wellbeing.
St Stephen’s School is one of only two schools in WA currently undertaking a trial of the program, which is being generously funded by The Sebastian Foundation whose mission is to give young Australians the resilience and confidence they need to grow and be their best. The program will be rolled out to Year 8 families at St Stephen’s School’s over the course of Term 2. Year 8 is one that is critical in secondary as students have completed their first year of high school and are navigating changes in friendship groups, changes in expectations and learning to be more self-reflective.
The online system has dedicated areas for teacher wellbeing, parent resources, and lessons for teachers to facilitate with students in class, which showcase more than 1000 minutes of student interviews, video-based lessons by clinical psychologists and additional materials to provide a holistic approach to care.
The pre-prepared lessons allow teachers to confidently address current issues with programs and lessons developed for different aged students from Kindergarten through to Year 12. Staff have access to Open Parachute’s clinical psychologists at any time for their own discussions relating to classroom activities or for guidance on complex cases that may present in the classroom.
Students can also connect with others their age and address own issues in documentary-style features, all of which are accompanied by corresponding activities and discussions. Eastern state schools who have already implemented the program report that it is simple to use, flexible and has opened discussions amongst year level cohorts. They also report that students are now leading the conversation in this vital area.
Open Parachute supports teachers with professional development and provides their own wellbeing resources amidst the changing responsibilities and learning environments introduced by the COVID pandemic. The program is also a great tool in assisting teachers to continue growing their knowledge and experience in wellbeing. I have always advocated that more focus in this area should be included in contemporary teacher training.
Ongoing access to the resources provided in the Open Parachute enables teachers to continually upskill themselves to best assist the students in their care.
One of the most important and useful sections of the program are the resources for parents. We always say the best approach to education is one where the relationship between school and home is strong. As a parent myself, navigating the changing landscape of wellbeing and mental health is something that needs to be addressed in an almost discreet manner. While schools and staff receive training opportunities and resources, to facilitate learning, parents are often forgotten. They are an important part in any wellbeing conversations. Our Year 8 families will get full access to the parent resources through the trial, and we can’t wait for feedback from families at the end of the trial.
Open Parachute is an additional tool in St Stephen’s School’s approach to wellbeing, which includes a structured Care Team comprising psychologists, nurses, Deans and Deputies of Care, integrated daily activities, including homeroom, where students connect across year groups and with staff for mentoring, and a House structure where students enjoy a space of their own.
In a data-driven world, it is important to be able to measure the engagement, use and focus of wellbeing programs to ensure they aren’t just ticking a box, but are meaningful programs that provide students with resources and support to face many issues that those students from the past may not have had to deal with.