According to Youth Mental Health Canada, Canada’s youth suicide rate is the third highest in the industrialized world and 70 per cent of mental health problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence.
To combat this, Sylvan Lake’s Flipside Youth Centre runs an in-school mentorship program, called Ment-To-Matter, which pairs students from HJ Cody School with youth in need from Beacon Hill Elementary School, CP Blakely Elementary School, Ecole Fox Run School and Ecole Steffie Woima Elementary School.
Krista Carlson, FCSS youth services supervisor, said the program began in 2016 and they managed to get in half a year in 2019 before the pandemic shut everything down. Now the program is starting up again for the 2022/2023 school year.
Students apply to become a mentor and Carlson said each student is interviewed, reference checks are done and then the student is paired with a student in elementary school or middle school. The mentor and the mentee meet once a week at the mentee’s school.
“We do ask mentors to commit for the full school year,” Carlson said. “As they move through the year, they become more comfortable together. The longer the relationship lasts, the more impact it has. We also encourage mentors to come back year after year and we try and pair the same mentor and mentee together.”
Carlson said there are activities planned for the pairs, such as board games or other group games. The pairs are also welcome to go off on their own and do activities they are interested in.
“Our goal is to have at least 20 mentors this year,” Carlson said. “The last year we ran the program, we were up to 40 mentors and mentees, and it was really a great group back then. So we’re going to work our way back up to 40, if not more.”
Carlson explained that the Ment-To-Matter program is in partnership with Chinook’s Edge School Division. The town developed the program, but mentors can earn high school credits while volunteering, either a mentoring credit, and there’s a curriculum around mentoring, or through work experience.
“There’s a lot of research around formal mentoring programs and how they benefit youth,” said Carlson. “Big Brothers Big Sisters has been running in-school mentoring for years, but we have the capacity here to be able to run our own program.”
Carlson said the town worked with Mentor Canada and Alberta Mentoring Partnership to come up with their own program and mentors are provided with a lot of resources and training before they begin.
“We want our mentors to be prepared,” she said. “Most mentees are referred to the program through their school counsellor or teacher.”
The impacts from a mentor/mentee relationship are endless. Carlson said youth who are mentored are 53 per cent more likely to report good or excellent mental health and are twice as likely to report a sense of belonging. Mentees are also twice as likely to complete high school and 95 per cent more likely to pursue education past high school.
“It’s about having that positive role model, someone to look up to,” said Carlson. “And it also comes back to being particular about the mentors we pick – we want mentors who have goals and are working towards goals past high school. Mentees look up to them and want to be like them, so they tend to want to finish high school as well.”
Carlson said she is really eager to get new mentors signed up. And there is also a community mentoring program, for adults who would like to help. The Ment-To-Connect program pairs an adult and youth together and they meet for an hour each week in the community.
Visit sylvanlake.ca/youth for more information or students can find the mentor application at the HJ Cody School office.