By Marianna Gale,
Promotions Manager – St Mary’s School

Our childhood years are just as important for growing healthy minds as they are healthy bodies.  With almost half of our mental health problems starting before we hit 14, it is important to provide young minds with the necessary tools to develop resilient minds and positivity.

The staff of St Mary’s School, Manly have this year been working on integrating strategies and tools to enable children to develop these skills.  The school officially launched a KidsMatter primary program on 1 November, at the end of Australia’s mental health month and the day of our Catholic Church’s important feast of All Saints.  The day began with a whole school mass in the parish church where they heard about the saints of our past and present day.  The children were actively encouraged to participate in a discussion about ‘what made a saint?’ Ultimately, it was agreed that Saints all put others before themselves. If we are able to be there for our neighbour we will be able to positively participate in and contribute to our future world as adults of tomorrow.

The KidsMatter framework that was launched at St. Mary’s, focuses on the social and emotional well-being of every student, staff member and parent/carer.  It is about providing lasting, continuous and sustainable change within the whole school community.  It's about working beyond the school building and forming partnerships with parents and carers.  

One of the most effective tools throughout the school’s community has been the concept of bucket filling.  Students from K-6 are encouraged to fill ‘buckets’ with positive behaviour and awareness of others – putting others before ourselves. Bucket dippers are conversely those negative behaviours such as bullying and bad behaviour. We are already seeing positive changes this year as bucket filling is rewarded throughout the community with praise and acknowledgement for doing the right thing.

The concept has also been brought to life through an enormous mural on one of the brick walls in the playground.  The well-known local graffiti artist Judd Shoppee offered us his valuable time to spray-paint a Manly beach sunrise onto the wall.  Judd was given a standing ovation from students as they spontaneously clapped in admiration as they headed past at the end of the day.  The image was designed to trigger positive thoughts, feelings and actions and work in conjunction with bucket filler drawings – to be added by every child in the school over the next few weeks. 

Throughout the launch day, the school and parent community were able to visit classrooms, play games and join their children and friends for lunch in the playground.  The children were so happy to have their parents with them and all the children had positive things to say about it, from “…my mum and I played soccer and it was so much fun” to – “.. I felt happy because my Dad played handball - I was winning.”

Lunch came to an end with a surprise flash mob as the children from Yr K-6 started dancing.  Class by class they fell into sequence to dance along to ‘Dare to be Square’ sung by Guy Sebastian.

In the afternoon, the diocesan leader of the KidsMatter framework, Liz Douglas, spoke to over 100 parents in the hall. They all walked away feeling positive and armed with lots of ideas to incorporate into their “parenting” arsenal. To help support parents with the KidsMatter framework, parent forums will continue to be offered on various social wellbeing and positive parenting topics.

There is no doubt that the community of St Mary’s are benefitting from the fallout of this beautiful day and all the hard work and enthusiasm of a great team of staff.  This is only the beginning and we hope that by continuing to promote these proven KidsMatter methods, we will ensure we are able to nurture happy, balanced kids.