Van Tech Pushes Students to Get a Better Night's Sleep

Van Tech Secondary staff knew something had to be done when they noticed more and more students breaking down into tears in their counselors offices as they described the anxiety they felt trying to juggle their homework, extracurriculars and other life priorities.

VCH School Nurse Derek Roelfson was speaking with counselors and noticed a growing number of students were needing to be referred to outside agencies for specific levels of anxiety.

Vice principal Leann Buteau says many of her students were emailing their teachers about assignments at 2 or 3 AM. With class the next day, these same students would arrive at school wrecked by exhaustion. Something needed to be done.

Thanks to some good timing and sleuthing by Roelfson, the Van Tech community lucked out. UBC School of Social Work was keen on doing a research partnership around wellness at the school and together the school community and UBC embarked on a five year longitudinal study to examine what's causing anxiety among students.

Since the study was launched, a year has passed. Several hundred students ranging from Grades 8 to 12 have filled out questionnaires. Some big themes came out of their initial first year of data. The most startling was that 69 percent of students surveyed did not feel rested on the school day. Sleep (or the lack of it) was clearly a big factor that was driving anxiety. The other was food scarcity, with 25 percent of students surveyed saying they were never certain where their next meal would come from.

With this in mind, the school launched its own specialized Wellness initiative known as WIN. Buteau says WIN is just starting to gather steam but already they've formed a student committee to energize their efforts to be boosters for getting a good night's sleep. Plans are in the work to hold events and other activities in the fall to get kids hitting the pillow earlier including a "sleep pep rally". Buteau says her team is also having conversations with the district regarding the food insecurity issue. This work and the research already compiled has led to an invitation for Van Tech to present WIN at the 9th annual Healthy Schools Leadership Symposium this May.

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