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A space for all students

Francine Crimmins  |  08 May 2019

The back of the school library is often a quiet, somewhat lonely place. Most students might enter for some quiet time, to pick out a book or even to do some study.

But for one high school in Queensland, there’s something different happening in the back of the library.

If you were to walk in on an ordinary day, you might hear the chatter of teenage girls, a roar of laughter or the crash of giant wooden ‘Jenga’ pieces tumbling to the ground.

Walk in further and you’ll be met with a scene very different from any other school. There are girls of all year groups sitting around in coloured beanbags or on the bright green AstroTurf. Some are busy talking while others are challenging one another to a life-sized game of Connect Four.

There won’t be any teachers coming in telling them they can’t do this, or it’s breaking library rules. Instead, this is a place by the students, for the students.

Fun, Food & Fellowship

It’s a project called ‘Fun, Food & Fellowship’ and it can be found at St John Fisher College, in Bracken Ridge, Queensland.

According to College Captain Jess Pinto, it’s a big change from what the library used to look like for the students at St John Fisher.

‘It’s nice because it’s now become a place where you just always see people’, she says.

‘It’s got a very calming environment and you can go in and play with the life-sized games. There’s always girls talking to each other and chilling out.’

The program, which started at the college last year, was born from ex-students Alicia Horsfield, Maya Rees, and Michelle Krueger.

The three students received a $5000 grant from the Goldfish Tank funding competition which was run by youth mental health foundation Headspace.

Upon winning the competition, the girls put their mental health project into action, using the money to transform the back of the library into a calm room with lighting, comfortable seats, games and opportunities for sharing time together.

‘Their main goals were to create a space where students felt they could spend time and meet new people’,

Jess says.

A new approach to school culture

On the day of the launch, the goals of ‘fun, food and fellowship’ became a reality. The school leaders opened the space to the school community by sharing cake and hot chocolate.

‘We opened up the doors and had a really long line, but you could see all these girls talking to each other and they were excited about this new space’, Jess says.

This new space is not just for the girls, it is also sometimes home to two furry friends. One teacher often brings in therapy dogs who are trained to offer support and love to the students through a pat, belly scratch or hug.

But the project, which started out as a mental health initiative, has also now flourished into a new approach

to school culture.

Jess says the college has started to pay more attention to the issue of mental health, including making Headspace education a more prominent theme.

‘Building an inclusive environment and making every student feel like they belong in their school, and that they have a community around them, is really important’, she says.

It’s also been an important way to remind students it’s OK to focus not just on studying, but also taking care of their mental health.

Students supporting other students

The leadership team from St John Fisher also thinks other high schools could learn from making a physical space for mental health and wellbeing. Jess says schools instead often focus on big fundraising events, which, while useful, sometimes miss the important opportunities to connect with the student’s individual needs.

‘A small space where you can go in and feel like you can talk to people is disregarded quite often’, she says. ‘I think it’s something other schools should take on board, and put their own spin on it.’

Although the students who started the project have left the college, Jess says the current cohort is working to keep the space alive.

The project left by the College’s ex-students has now set a bigger challenge for the school’s current cohort – keeping it one of fun and fellowship as it was first intended to be. With the students using the space for gatherings, music, and games, it shouldn’t be hard to keep the space well-resourced into the future.

‘It’s something we can still work on to improve over time so it will continue to be a good space for students to be in’, she says.

 

Topic tags: healthycommunitylife, vocationsandlifechoices

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