Last year, more than 250 schools around Australia signed up for the Talk-And-Walk-A-Thon, a free event that encourages students to build peer connections.
Carcoola Primary School in Western Australia ran a successful Talk-And-Walk-A-Thon in 2020.
Peta Kapor, Deputy Principal said: “Students had the chance to chat with students of other year levels who they might not have spoken to before.”
“They chatted about a variety of topics, including what they are grateful for, subjects at school, and things that make their mums and dads most proud,” she said.
The school held their event during Mental Health Month in October as part of their wellbeing strategy.
“There was such positive feedback from students, staff, and parents that we will definitely hold this event again,” Ms Kapor said.
Feeling connected is vital for our mental health
Connectedness is one of the top indicators of child wellbeing.
We all need to feel connected to other humans to thrive and flourish, but it’s especially critical for mental health and development in school-aged children.
In the past few years, we’ve seen an increase in loneliness and disconnection due to the pandemic and the continued rise in social media use. Our kids spend less time face-to-face and more time looking into screens or out of windows, as was the case during lockdown.
This October, we’re hosting our annual Talk-And-Walk-A-Thon, an event for schools across Australia to build connections and help students work on their conversation skills. The Talk-And-Walk-A-Thon provides a simple way to make a difference to both your students and your school culture.
Samantha Brown, CEO of Peer Support Australia, said: “Providing opportunities for intentional connection can make a big difference to students’ sense of belonging and self-esteem.”
“This event supports our mission to enhance student wellbeing, and I believe true connection is what students both need and long for, even if they aren’t able to articulate the need themselves,” Ms Brown said.
Connection boosts both your mental and physical health
Feeling connected to others not only improves our mental health but our physical health as well. People who have strong social connections report lower blood pressure and a lower rate of obesity.
In students, connectedness is tied to academic success compared to students with a lower sense of connection. Students with greater connections also report greater feelings of overall health and wellbeing.
One post-COVID study reported an increase in depression and a decrease in positive mental wellbeing among adolescents in Western Australia. While the study focused on the impact of school closures, we continue to see lockdown’s lasting effects on our students every day. This tells us that we’re at a critical moment to make a difference for our students.
Making mental health and connectedness a priority can look a few different ways. Most often it starts with teachers and staff setting the example to create a positive, inclusive classroom environment. From there, schools can build their own policies and opportunities to improve student connectedness.
How to bring the Talk-And-Walk-A-Thon to your school
The Talk-And-Walk-A-Thon is free to participate in, and easy to run. We’ll send you a digital toolkit with everything you need to run a successful event for your students.
Set aside one or two hours during a school day. You may like to run your event in October to coincide with Mental Health Month. Before students begin talking and walking, separate them into pairs or small groups. During the walk, they’ll move past checkpoints pre-stocked with conversation cards to help prompt conversation and deepen connections. The conversation cards are particularly helpful for students who find talking with others more challenging, as they help ease any tension or awkwardness that may arise.
Not only does the event help bring students together and broaden their connections, but it also helps them build confidence, improve their social skills, and create a safe space to address mental wellbeing.
Ms Kapor was delighted to see different students engage in conversation, including a female student with a disability, connect with a boy, who often has difficulty mixing with others.
“When asked what she was grateful for, she mentioned the boy she was talking to,” Ms Kapor said. “This provided such a boost for the boy, and he wanted to stay with her for the remainder of the activity.”
“It was heart-warming to see the younger students chatting to older students who they would never have the opportunity to speak to,” she said.
Ms Brown said the Talk-And-Walk-A-Thon is a creative way to open the door to more conversations about mental health in our schools.
“One positive conversation can spark a transformation in a child’s life in ways we can’t imagine, just by inviting them to connect with a peer,” Ms Brown said.
The Talk-And-Walk-A-Thon is available to schools across Australia. By taking a few hours out of your school day you can have a tremendous impact on your students by providing the means for building strong connections.
“While we can’t know what each student is going through, we can provide ways to help them out of isolation and loneliness into a true sense of belonging,” Ms Brown said.
Register for our free toolkit to start planning today.