It’s 5:15 on a Monday night in November. About 30 teenagers sprawl on couches, armchairs and the floor, propped against cushions and each other. They’re wearing sweats and jeans and look like a close group of friends hanging out in someone’s rec room.
But in fact, they’re in the School Life Centre at Lakefield College School. And although it’s likely they’ll become friends, they’re LCS boarders and day students, all from different grades, houses, backgrounds and countries. What they have in common, what brings them together on this frigid winter night, is their mutual desire to increase the happiness and well-being of every person in the school.
Many names come to mind to describe this keen, compassionate group: Sensitive Superheroes; Warriors for Well-being; Champions of Cheer. But the actual name is more prosaic. These students have joined an LCS club called THRIVE/Jack Chapter, which aims to promote the values of THRIVE (the school’s well-being initiative) and Jack.org, a charity organization that is helping young leaders across Canada revolutionize attitudes towards mental health. The club meets every Monday evening for 1 hour. In their last few meetings, the students learned about Jack.org, and how they can encourage fellow students to take care of their mental health and look out for each other.
Tonight, they’re fine-tuning their club’s purpose statement. Alumna and associate faculty member Arynne Boyes ’13, along with Kirsten Johnston, Lakefield’s Education of the Whole Person Values Advocate, are facilitating the meeting, but the kids are very much in charge of input and decision-making. The white board Johnston is writing on is emblazoned with blue and red notations, and her hand races to keep up with the flow of ideas. Finally, from four potential purpose statements, the group synthesizes one that satisfies them all:
LCS THRIVE/Jack Chapter Purpose Statement:
To educate and enrich the LCS community through student-led initiatives that foster happiness and physical and mental well-being.
Now that their objective is crystal clear, the club members move on to the fun stuff—coming up with those initiatives. From hosting a winter campfire with fireworks, to creating a day in the spring that’s devoted entirely to waterfront activities, to holding a “compliments bake sale” (where people can buy baked goods by writing compliments for others that are delivered later on), their ideas are focussed on activities that increase connection, joy and kindness. They also build on one another’s suggestions. When someone says they should have a monthly tech-free day, another student adds that it would be nice to give kids a surprise on that day as a sort of reward for turning off their phones. Maybe Santa could stop by classes and pass out candy canes in December. Everyone lights up at the idea of surprises. How about Cupid delivering chocolates on Valentines Day? A cookie decorating event in the hallways? Having classes end early?
Their ideas aren’t always treat driven. A student mentions how helpful it is to have “teacher days,” where regular classes are suspended and kids can visit teachers in classrooms to get extra help, discuss projects, or work on an assignment with the teacher being present. It’s not easy juggling a six-day school week with sports, arts, clubs and socializing. Having more “teacher days” would relieve academic stress, the student says.
Someone else suggests an initiative based on trying something new. In other words, giving people the chance to do an activity they’ve never tried before without worrying about how well it turns out. It could be anything from playing a new instrument to checking out beehives. The point is simply to experience something new—and enjoy the good feelings that it engenders.
There is no doubt this group loves the idea of serving dollops of joy to the school community. But their aim is even larger than that. When asked why they joined this particular club, what they think is important about it, a student immediately pipes up.
“It’s nice to be part of something bigger than LCS,” she says. “Being a Jack Chapter means we’re involved with the Jack.org movement all across Canada. And we’ve already spread the word to other schools in the area. Now kids at those schools want to form Jack Chapters of their own, and help their classmates with mental health issues. That really feels good.”
To form a Jack Chapter the club members had to participate in five learning modules created by Jack.org. This included watching mental health videos on various topics, such as recognizing when someone is struggling, knowing how to reach out, and learning how to weave positive mental health strategies into everyday activities. Afterwards, the members reflected on what they’d seen and did a short quiz. The students like the structure and sense of purpose that comes from being a Jack Chapter, and they feel it fits perfectly with the THRIVE values the club was founded on: promoting physical well-being, positive psychology, and healthy life-long habits.
“It also feels good to know we’ve brought positive change to our own school,” another girl adds. “There are a lot of different kids in this club, all contributing in their own way. It’s exciting to build on each other’s ideas and create events people really love. To see our initiatives work. To know we’ve helped make people happier and more connected. And we learn a lot about ourselves as well, which is great.”
“It feels meaningful,” a student says quietly. “And it feels good to be in a group of like-minded people. Everyone here loves the idea of making people happy—and helping them feel better if they’re not feeling so great.”
“I love that we have a voice,” a younger member says. “KJ (Kirsten Johnston) is always at meetings, but we come up with our own initiatives and strategies. If we hear students are overwhelmed by workloads, we can speak up on their behalf—and the adults listen. I think it’s great we get a chance at leadership before we’re grads. Even if we’re only 14 or 15, we get to help create a positive difference that we can actually see and feel.” She pauses thoughtfully. “It’s—kind of awesome.”
What are Jack Chapters?
Jack Chapters are trained youth-led groups working year-round to identify and dismantle barriers to positive mental health in their communities. The mental health landscape is different all over Canada, so Jack Chapters use a local approach rather than “one size fits all.” Jack Chapters are about bringing the mental health revolution to your own backyard.
Jack Windeler died by suicide at 18 when he was in his first year at Queen’s University. Sadly, Jack was unable to reach out for the help he needed. Wanting to ensure that every young person who is struggling does get the help they need, Jack’s parents started a memorial fund at Kids Help Phone. Out of this fund grew The Jack Project (now Jack.org), an initiative aimed at preventing youth suicide and improving the mental health of young people across Canada.