East Richmond Education Centre students who were part of the Seed to Feed project in their classrooms and through the SchoolsPlus program got their hands dirty in the Helping Hands Community Garden at Richmond Villa.

PORT HAWKESBURY: With the full roll-out of SchoolsPlus across the province, local education officials marked the fifth anniversary of the program in all Strait area schools.

On October 10, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development announced that the SchoolsPlus program is available to all students at all 56 schools sites in Nova Scotia.

In the Strait regional centre for education (SRCE), SchoolsPlus has been fully in place since 2014 after first arriving as a pilot project in Guysborough County in 2008, which was gradually expanded into other counties.

In the SRCE, the four hub sites are Antigonish, Strait-Richmond, Guysborough, and Inverness. Each of these hub sites offer a range of different programs, services and supports based on the particular needs of the students and families.

Those who qualify for the program can be referred by their school or by outside agencies and government departments. Families can also make self-referrals. Then, SchoolsPlus facilitators meet with the families, or the referral sources, take and assess that information, then chart an action plan and the resources required to meet their objectives.

“We would put in a referral in for them and navigate the system so they don’t have to do that,” Marguerite McGillivray, SchoolsPlus facilitator in the Antigonish region said. “Then we help them navigate through those various departments and agencies, and then we’ll bring them back and make sure that the appropriate services are in place for the appropriate situations that we are dealing with.”

The number of people accessing the program varies from county-to-county, from year-to-year, according to McGillivray.

“It really comes down to the need of the student and family, and based on that, they would connect from the school administration to the SchoolsPlus staff to determine what support would be best suited for the particular family and that’s when they would connect to the appropriate partner agencies, which can be non-profit agencies and government departments,” SRCE communications director Deanna Gillis explained.

Tera Gale-MacLeod, SchoolsPlus facilitator for the Strait-Richmond area, said the year-round program brings all family service providers together. SchoolsPlus deals with government departments like community services, justice and health, non-profits like Family Services of Eastern Nova Scotia, and regional service providers.

In addition to individual cases, the program has programs running during the day in schools, there are after-school programs, and other programs, Gale-MacLeod noted.

“Some people are running community gardens, we do after-school adventures, we also work in local nursing homes,” Gale MacLeod said. “We also do grandparent support programs, we do summer programs all summer, as well as March break programs. We help kids that may not get to participate in some programs, we help them to participate.”

McGillivray said facilitators are mostly social workers and each site has community outreach workers who provide mentoring for students and help facilitate and co-facilitate meetings.

Both facilitators report that feedback from students, families and partners in the program has been positive.

“And I think we’re getting more recognized because when we do groups at school, when we co-facilitate with other areas, like health or justice, sometimes now, they coming to seek us out for programs,” Gale-MacLeod stated. “I think we’re just getting that much more recognized.”

As a result of the SchoolsPlus consent form, McGillivray said departments and agencies are working together and on the same page, which gets everyone around the table working collaboratively, without duplicating services.

As of September, SchoolsPlus services 370 schools in Nova Scotia.

The program has 41 facilitators/social workers and 84 community outreach workers. SchoolsPlus also has 53.5 mental health clinicians, who are employed by the Nova Scotia Health Authority or the IWK Children’s Hospital.