A St. Albert Catholic High student has joined a ministerial panel to speak up for mental health in Alberta schools.
Grade 12 St. Albert Catholic High School student Avalina Zenari is one of the 40 students on the 2022-23 Minister’s Youth Council, a volunteer group which advises Alberta’s education minister about education issues. She is the only student from a St. Albert or Sturgeon County school division on the council this school year.
Zenari, 17, said the council held its first meeting online on Oct. 14 to 16, during which she took part in lectures and workshops on education issues with students from across the province. She also got to make a presentation to Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.
“Mental health is a very big thing for me,” Zenari said, so she advised LaGrange to boost supports for mental health awareness in Alberta schools, particularly in the form of staff training and student education.
Zenari said she was very pleased to hear LaGrange announce $20 million for mental health pilot projects in schools last Nov. 16, and happy that the minister had taken some of the council’s ideas under consideration.
“I think it’s a good start for sure.”
Leader and teacher
An Edmonton resident, Zenari said she enrolled with Greater St. Albert Catholic years ago for its supportive atmosphere and excellent French Immersion program.
SACHS career practitioner Teresa Rieger said Zenari is a respected, well-rounded student who is successful in both sports and academics, being active with the school’s students union and track, basketball, and soccer teams.
“Avalina really exemplifies what it means to be a Skyhawk,” Rieger said, referring to the SACHS teams name.
“She’s really mature for her age, and she’s fearless. She will try anything.”
Zenari said she applied to join the youth council to represent her community and get students more support in school.
“I’m just really passionate about the education system,” she said.
Zenari said she has seen an upswing in anxiety, eating, and social interaction disorders among students because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and a persistent stigma around mental health issues in schools. Students and teachers needed more training and resources to be able to recognize mental health problems and help students in need.
Zenari said she co-founded the Mind Matters club last year at SACHS to raise awareness of mental health issues. One of the club’s main projects was a breakfast program, which helped students in need get nutritious food to bolster their physical and mental health. Club members hope to restart the program next year.
Rieger said Zenari spearheaded an initiative by the school’s Rotary Interact Club last year to mentor students at École Father Jan.
Zenari said the initiative saw club members work with Father Jan students and teachers once a week to encourage literacy — an experience she found very rewarding. This year, club members act as volunteer tutors for other SACHS students.
Zenari said she has two meetings left in her 10-month term on the youth council, and hopes at least one of them will be in person.
“I want to help make a difference and make my voice heard.”
SACHS principal Wade Michael said Zenari’s place on the council reflects her determination to make a difference in education, and is a big source of pride for the school.
“It gives us a voice and gives the kids in this community a voice,” he said of the council.
Zenari said she plans to get an education degree at the University of Alberta’s Campus Saint-Jean and become a teacher.
Visit www.alberta.ca/student-engagement.aspx for details on the youth council.