By: Anya Sarvanandan and Janice Kang, Co-Presidents, 1UP Chapter at Earl Haig Secondary School
Our 1UP school chapter at Earl Haig worked on our first project last year to address pedestrian safety on a nearby busy street where students and commuters alike jaywalked regularly to access the subway. This was dangerous as cars rarely slowed down in the area and students were frequently distracted when crossing. Our team came up with the idea of a popup crosswalk that would demonstrate the benefits of a real, permanent crosswalk to the local government and would attract the attention of community members in the neighbourhood, such as parents, commuters, and local media. This year, our team is tackling a new issue within our school community.
Our New Focus — Mental Health
This year’s project revolves around bringing awareness to students’ mental health. Oftentimes, Earl Haig students are stressed and overwhelmed from participating in extracurriculars, maintaining competitive grades, or balancing a healthy social life.
According to non-profit organization, Youth Mental Health Canada (YMHC), it is estimated that 10–20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder — the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide. Furthermore, Global News has reported that 40% of Candians report their mental health has disrupted their lives in some way over the past year. Nearly one in five missed work or school.
Our team resonates with YMHC’s mission statement, that is, “We strive to raise awareness of youth mental health issues and how they might be manifested in the educational system, and to advocate for action on youth mental health issues with increased funding and community supports offered in more timely and effective ways.”
As our team realized the pressing and demanding issue of youth mental illness, we collectively decided to embark on a mission to advocate for better youth support within the education system.
We identified a potential project site at our school’s music wing entrance vestibule where many students hang out. The area is drab, dirty, gets stuffy easily, and is often littered with garbage. Currently, the space is being used for ticket sales, as an entrance and exit, and as a practice space for musicians.
To better understand the site, we conducted interviews and a student survey to find out how they used the space and any improvements they would like to see.
Our survey showed that 38.6% of students used the space as an exit and entryway, 29.5% used the space for music rehearsal and practice, 18.2% used the space for lunch, and 13.6% used the space for socializing.
34.1% of students stated that the aesthetics could be improved, 29.5% expressed concern for the cleanliness, 20.5% stated that the air quality could be improved, and 15.9% described other areas of improvement.
The survey results showed that students were looking for a more comfortable and aesthetically pleasing place to rehearse, eat lunch, socialize, and wait in after school.
Following the survey, our team made frequent site visits to identify the site constraints. We found that space was limited due to the vestibule being a fire exit, making any obstruction a potential fire hazard. We decided to use this unique space to our advantage by focusing on improving the perimeter areas.
Throughout our brainstorming process, we narrowed down our focus to transforming the space into a coping mechanism for stressed students. When doing research, we discovered that numerous studies have determined there is good evidence of a positive relationship between levels of neighbourhood green space and mental health and well-being. Plants are proven to help reduce stress, create a feeling of well-being, improve air quality, boost our mood, and help us feel more relaxed and calm. In a school environment such as ours, a green space would provide opportunities for community involvement as teachers and students work together.
The goal of our project, “Project Plant”, was to increase the amount of green space within Earl Haig by placing plants in the vestibule, a frequent point of entry and exit. Adding plants would create a relaxing atmosphere, bringing awareness to and bettering the student body’s mental health.
This 3D model includes all of the features our team wanted to include in the final installation. The plants and shelving are showcased in this 3D prototype, along with their corresponding dimensions. A bulletin board would act as our “feedback wall” where students give us direct feedback about the space by writing down a message on a sticky note with the provided materials. On the same board, there would be pamphlets and additional information from YMHC and other materials about youth mental health.
From Idea to Reality
Our design proposal was approved by our school principal and parent council with a few weeks of school remaining. We completed our installation at the end of June but had to alter our original prototype due to the short time period. Rather than buying our ideal plants and shelves, our team donated their own supplies and arranged them in the music wing vestibule. We were able to set up a row of small potted flowers and two corner shelves with succulents, similar to one of our images from the brainstorming process (the image in the centre above). Due to completing our project within a shorter timeframe than anticipated, we were unable to implement the feedback wall but managed to get students’ feedback through word of mouth. Many said they enjoyed the change in scenery, especially during our stressful exam season. Overall, their responses were positive and encouraging.
Our school chapter intends to continue “Project Plant” next year with the help of other school clubs and caretaking staff. We’re excited to work together and witness the green space and students’ mental health flourish.