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Johannesburg school adopts EQ technology to support the mental health of its pupils

Worldwide one in seven teenagers experience some form of mental distress or trauma. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) depression, anxiety and behavioural disorders are among the leading causes of illness and disability among young people. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 15-19-year-olds.

The mental health of our young people has been placed under an even bigger spotlight since the Covid-19 pandemic, where lockdowns, remote schooling and an absence of friends and peers increased these levels of mental distress.

Shaun Fuchs, founder of Centennial Schools, has been in the education space for more than three decades, and has seen first-hand the impact of mental distress on school children. However, the impact of the Covid-pandemic has brought this often not spoken about issue right to the fore.

“In 30 years of education, I have never seen the levels of anxiety and depression in young people as I did coming out of the pandemic,” he says.

This focus on the emotional intelligence (EQ) of young people, rather than just academic performance, has seen the school adopt technology that makes a real difference to the mental health of its students.

The school, which already places a key emphasis on technology in its teaching and physical set-up, has acquired an app to help pupils establish a better sense of self and emotional awareness.

“With this generation – Gen Z – being the most digitally literate generation on the planet, a wellness app was entirely appropriate.  This generation lives on their mobile phones, and using an app is natural to them. The  wellness app we use, called It’sOk, enables our students to increase their emotional intelligence and mental well-being on a daily basis.

“It also provides teachers and parents with accurate data on how our children are doing.

“The app gives students a platform for self-expression and emotional education without them having to approach an adult. It is tough for kids to admit their struggles, this app gives them a safe space where it is easy for them to express their feelings while also giving the school the data is needs to intervene if there are issues,” Fuchs says.

The app is making all the difference

Cody Gordon, Co-founder and CEO of the It’sOk app, says his own experience in dealing with his mental health journey – following the death of his father whilst in matric – led to the creation of the app.

“The choice I made was to take responsibility for my life and to make it better. The continuous focus on my emotional intelligence, and wellbeing, has had the biggest impact on my life and unfortunately these skills that have not  been integrated into our school curriculum. When we learn about almost everything at school, why is there no time spent on learning about our emotions and how to use them effectively in a practical manner to benefit us in the real world? We need to destigmatise mental wellbeing and make it a priority, just as we do everything else.” he says.

Gordon says an app was central to creating a tool to assist young people with their mental health journey. “It’s where kids want to be. I knew it had to relate to them, their intrinsic behaviours and be a seamless process. It’s super fun and engaging too,” he says.

It has paid off. Gordon says the take-up by students at Centennial Schools has been amazing. “Usage has increased month on month. It has become a daily habit for everyone at the school.”

For Fuchs and Centennial Schools, the data from the app has proven critical. “We are using scientific data about the mental state of our students to identify trends and to pro-actively manage the mental health of our students. It has changed the landscape, we have quantitative data allowing us to identify patterns and behaviour.”

“You cannot put a price on the wellness of our children. We want to be proactive and determine areas of concern early on. As far as possible we want to avoid any personal tragedies as a result of mental health issues. With the app we can pick up on issues and hopefully intervene. If we can save one student, the app has paid for itself a million times over

But, Fuchs says, the app does not only focus on the negative. “It covers the full spectrum of emotions. We also want our students to understand what contributes to their happiness.”

Parents are a critical cog in the wellness of their child’s mental health and play a vital role in developing the emotionally intelligent leaders of tomorrow, says Fuchs. Parents therefore have a platform through the app to analyse trends and receive reports on their child.

“By making mental health a central focus to our children’s wellbeing, we set them up to perform better academically and be better leaders and team mates now, as well as in the future. In fact, emotional intelligence – which is what we promote – is one of the key requirements for successful businesspeople,” says Fuchs.

How the app works:

  • Every morning at the start of the school day, students log on to the app, click on the daily check-in, describe their range of emotions, both primary and secondary.
  • There is an education section where they can see what their emotions mean and why they are feeling that way. This self-awareness feature ranges from the personal to school reasons, self-harming, social media, or family reasons.
  • There is a range of tools to use – from reaching out to someone at school, having a chat on the platform, breathing exercises, meditation, life skills, gratitude, panic buttons, and an analysis of the data so that the students can understand themselves.
  • Based on the usage of the app, parents receive wellbeing reports on their children which allows them to be proactive in understanding and managing their children’s wellbeing.
  • Every teacher at Centennial has access to the app and they can receive messages from students, track emotions per grade per class, find out how and why their students are feeling a particular emotion. All this allows teachers to pick up on things as they are happening.
  • Self-harm students are flagged. Key people are notified so that they can reach out to the student.
  • The app is mobile, tablet, iPad or laptop based.

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