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Keynote speaker Mark Black highlights UCHS mental wellness day

Small in stature but mighty in message, keynote speaker, Mark Black, kept a captive audience May 4 at UCHS speaking at their mental wellness afternoon.

UNITY — Valuing the importance of mental wellness, Unity Composite High School’s leadership, SLC and PSCC and Activate hosted a mental wellness day May 4.

Unity Composite High School held a day dedicated to mental wellness hosted by the Positive School Climate Committee, along with a group of staff members. Their message, “Warriors are resilient” was portrayed throughout the day’s events. The groups say the activity was funded by the UCHS grad group which hosts an annual memorial volleyball tournament in memory of former student, Tyler Zunti, as well as the Unity Mental Wellness Group and funds from the UCHS Warriors football night lights game dedicated to mental health.

 “We have been planning on holding this for a while based on mental health concerns in the school,” staff supervisor Anne Marie David says.

“We want to help build resilience in our school and community.”

Keynote speaker, Mark Black

David said they looked for a speaker that would address resilience and came upon Mark Black. Black is a Canadian presenter.

Black is a double lung and heart transplant recipient but has overcome adversity and now runs marathons. He was scheduled to do a corporate presentation in Saskatoon and was able to fit UCHS into his schedule when the school reached out to him.

Small in stature but mighty in message, Black held a captive audience throughout his presentation offering keys to overcoming adversity or teaching people resiliency in adapting to life’s challenges.

Black reminded those in attendance, “We all have our stuff. I am here to help you with the tools to not just survive challenges but thrive in them.”

The story of his transplant journey unfolded as he revealed the uncertainty he faced with his health decline and rebuilding his health in those days.

Students said some of his key takeaway messages were “Start thinking about what’s right instead of what’s wrong,” and “Change your focus, change your reality, as what you focus on is what you feel. They also embraced the concept of thinking about what is, rather than what if.

From Black’s presentation, students could choose among four breakout sessions, and the committee looked at their selections and fit them into their two choices as best they could. David said some sessions were popular and will be repeated, and some would only be offered on a one-time basis due to the availability of presenters.

Student breakout sessions held on a variety of topics

Each breakout session was set to last about 30 minutes. Grade 11 and 12 students had the opportunity to attend a breakout session with keynote speaker Black called “Hold On.” This session was meant to address a recent loss within the community and the student body.

UCHS says they benefit from the continued support of the community as several community members and businesses were presenters at break-out sessions, as well as a number of them contributed to their “Better Together” T-shirt campaign. Students say it is nice to know the community supports not only the cause but their efforts in promoting it.

“Our breakouts are quite diverse. We have pet therapy, First Nations drumming, art therapy, a session on ADHD, one from a faith perspective, a few on death and grief, two sessions on athletics and mental health. We have local presenters and two virtual presenters. We had a yoga session and Fitness Lair presenting. We had five past grads coming back to speak about life and challenges after graduation and post-secondary. There are 23 sessions offered to students in total.”

There was also a session for parents in the UCHS library and the public was invited to hear the keynote speaker.

“Co-chaIr, Emily Smith, and I thought the day went very well and hope it’s something they do again in the future,” Kaybree Spendelow, Positive School Climate Committee and Activate co-chair say.

“It was great to see community members there in addition to the students to prove that mental health doesn’t only affect us young kids.”

Kaybree added, “The speaker was great, giving a different perspective on how you live your life every day and hearing his story really put into perspective some of the small things we take for granted every day. It was great seeing everyone wear their better-together T-shirts and we will continue selling more of them as needed. We believe the better together campaign will continue on in upcoming years and it’s a great way to do a spirit day and unite all the students.”

Former UCHS students help facilitate a breakout session

Former UCHS student, and PSCC/Activate chair Reid Martin was part of a group of UCHS alumni students presenting a breakout session.

“I am currently living in Moose Jaw,” Martin says,

“I just finished my first year of the business diploma program at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, where I will be majoring in marketing. I am also working at the Tunnels of Moose Jaw as an actor/tour guide.”

Martin said when he was asked to participate it was a very easy decision to make.

“Mental health is something that is so near and dear to my heart and any chance that I get to help spread awareness I will take it. I was so happy to see that these initiatives are still going strong, and I just had to see it for myself.

“The presentation that I was a part of was all about transitioning from high school to post-secondary. It consisted of a panel of five UCHS graduates (myself, Jace Ducherer, Emily Rusk, Jessica Leeson and Brennae Hoffman). We were there to answer any questions that future graduates had about moving on from high school life to moving on to college/university, as well as address the challenges along the way and how we got through them.”

Martin feels students took away more from this session than a normal classroom setting as they had an opportunity to ask questions to peers that have just finished experiencing post-secondary in varying years.

“I wish I had something like this when I was in high school because to have all of this information come from people who you actually knew before they went to post-secondary is very different than it is coming from a teacher. The students that attended definitely learned that post-secondary education is a hurdle, but they also learned that it is one that they can conquer too.”

Attendees shared the opinion that hearing stories from different people on overcoming adversity is inspiring and helps build hope for the future, and everyone also agreed that taking better care of overall wellness helps provide the tools for overcoming obstacles when presented.





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