June 6, 2018

Depressed, Stressed Students to Have Greater Support in Australia

Brenton Stacey, Adventist Record

Challenging findings from surveys and an Avondale academic’s study are encouraging Seventh-day Adventist schools in Australia to invest more in the well-being of students.

Adventist Schools Australia has, over the past three years, tracked through its school improvement surveys the well-being of staff members and students. “We’re finding that, just like those elsewhere, many of our students are not experiencing a strong sense of well-being,” says associate national director Jacques Calais. “So, we’re doing something about it.”

Depression, Stress, and Anxiety

Exacerbated by issues such as family breakdown, globalization and ubiquitous access to mobile internet, adolescents tend to feel more isolated and more anxious about the future and suffer more from depression and stress, says Peter Beamish, senior lecturer in the Discipline of Education at Avondale College of Higher Education and developer of a well-being profiler.

He has received responses to an online survey from about 300 Year 9 students from six Adventist schools across Australia, in Queensland, Victoria, and New South Wales. The findings, which Beamish shared during his keynote at an Adventist Schools Australia-sponsored “Designed to Thrive” well-being symposium on Avondale’s Lake Macquarie campus on May 22, 2018, show one-third of the students need help managing depression and stress and more than half need help managing anxiety. “Even in Adventist schools, despite the best intention of the schools, our students need more help to maintain high levels of well-being,” says Beamish.

Belonging, Believing, and Becoming

Adventist Schools Australia established this past year a Well-being Reference Group comprising directors of education at Adventist Church conferences, teachers, counselors, Beamish and Darren Morton, lead researcher in the Lifestyle Research Centre at Avondale. The group initiated the symposium.

Almost 90 educators attended. The administrators, principals, teachers, chaplains, and counselors listened to keynotes, presented case studies of well-being initiatives in schools, discussed implications and implementation and contributed to a plenary during which they recommended a way forward.

“The genesis of the symposium grew from concerns our directors of education had about our students, who were saying more could be done to support their physical and emotional well-being,” says Adventist Schools Australia director Daryl Murdoch. “We seek to build strong communities of faith and learning, but for this to occur, we’ve got to meet three core elements: belonging, believing and becoming. For students to belong, their well-being must be front and center.”

Educators developed a comprehensive list of recommendations including an audit of well-being resources available to Adventist schools, an increase in the number of well-being units offered as part of Avondale’s Master of Education and the employment of a curriculum officer to develop well-being resources.

Respect, Resilience, and Responsibility

The consensus seemed to be for a system-wide approach to encourage the sharing of resources such as the Adventist Church in the South Pacific’s Live More Project and a whole-of-school model. Both are urgent, says Benton Craig, of Avondale School. A vision for the well-being of students and a better understanding of the age appropriateness of well-being for students in Preschool to Year 12 will help us “acknowledge we’re taking our students on a journey to a fullness and a joy of life that sustains them through adulthood.”

As Head of Secondary, Craig has helped introduce changes to improve the well-being of students. The school is using Northpine Christian College’s yearlong, gender-specific and Bible-based Challenge: The Next Step program to further develop respect, resilience, and responsibility in Year 9 students. It pairs the same year advisor with students as they move from Year 7 to 12 and is planning to introduce male and female advisors for each year level. And it has increased time in roll call for more worship and well-being activities. He hopes the recommendations “will propel us into a better space and allow us to take the reins a little with well-being.”

The recommendations will move through the Well-being Reference Group to the National Education Council in August.

“I looked at those in the room and felt enormously blessed,” says Calais. “The collegiality and the commitment to collaborate to improve student well-being is exciting. I’m humbled and proud to be working alongside those in our schools who are dedicated to not only the academic and spiritual needs of students but also the emotional well-being of staff members and students.”

“We take seriously the statement Jesus makes: ‘I came so you can have life to the full,’” says Beamish. “We believe that’s what we should be giving our students.”