The Foothills School Division (FSD) will be embarking on a two-year student mental health pilot project.

They've been granted $678,000 for support projects for students across the entire division (about 8,900 students total.)

In early 2020, FSD, along with Alberta Health Services' Addictions and Mental Health & Community and Rural Health, the Calgary Rural Primary Care Network, and the Foothills Children's Wellness Network to form the Foothills Mental Health Task Force.

Their goal was to work together to assess the needs of the community and better provide those services.

Representatives from those organizations, as well as Christ the Redeemer Catholic Schools, met with local students and parents in May of last year for a Youth Mental Health Partnership Summit to do exactly that.

Their findings from that summit were a large part of FSD's proposal to Alberta Education that ended up securing them the funding and will inform how that funding is used over the next two years.

Superintendent Chris Fuzessy says one of the action items they're looking at is the introduction of "mental wellness navigators" who would guide students and families to the services they need.

"One of the pieces was to bring into the system an additional navigator, and a navigator is someone who would have a very deep understanding of all the different supports and community services available and then work with our different family school liaison councillors and school leadership teams to have that navigator accompany families to the right service with a bit of a personalized accompaniment, so you're not given a telephone number or an email, but that person can bring you to that meeting and speak to the reasons why you're there."

The availability of family school liaison councillors is another area they're looking to address, be it increased hours for current personnel or an increase in the personnel themselves.

The availability of mental health services for rural students, in general, will be another area of focus.

Work is already underway to implement some practices as soon as this coming school year.

"We're working out the details of this now, we plan to ensure that all members of our own school division team but also our partner organizations receive what's called trauma-informed practice training. It addresses that piece around 'what is the best course of action for me as a service or care provider to be able to understand what someone has lived through and honoured what they've lived through,' but also bring a perspective that helps them move forward under that positive mental health heading," says Fuzessy.

He says FSD will be re-evaluating the project every six months to adjust things as needed.

"We'll start some concrete implementation probably in January and then evaluate at the end of the school year what needs to be changed or adjusted to begin next school year. Then, as we get to the end of year one, we go through that same process."

The pilot project is set to start in December of this year and end in December 2024.