RUOK? Day at Tumut High School saw significant buy-in among students last Friday, with a range of activities designed to help improve wellbeing and resilience amongst the cohort.
Head Teacher of Wellbeing Andrew Somerville said the event has been growing in popularity each year, with students taking an increasing role in organising the day.
“I think it’s just becoming more of an acceptable part of our community and culture,” he said.
“We just build on it each year. We always believe that it’s about taking an educational path, so we did a mini lesson about what RUOK? Day is about and then they can come out and experience a few things.”
The activities on Friday included giant soccer (played with a large yoga ball), regular soccer, face painting, chalk drawings on the outdoor basketball court, sunflower planting, footy throwing, giant connect four, giant jenga, macrame, indoor yoga, music and drama performances (from senior students) and cupcakes (from food tech/hospitality students).
“The idea is to show different options, that we have choices and everyone can gravitate towards what they like,” he said.
Typically, the school would invite external visitors to help organise activities, but due to Covid this year, Mr Somerville said the events were all organised in-house.
“It’s maybe not as extensive as in previous years, we’ll often get mental health providers and community organisations to come in, but we’re not able to do that,” he said.
Shannon Hibbens, Work Pathways Coordinator with Compact Inc., taught students (and teachers) to make macrame feathers and leaves. She said her activity was designed as a simple hands-on craft which students can use to relax and connect.
“It’s to give them further wellbeing avenues and new things to explore as well as just bring a message about the RUOK? Day and what is behind that,” said Ms Hibbens. “These self care activities you can sit down and we can just be having a conversation and it doesn’t even have to be about deep and meaningful, it’s just giving students – especially with all of the things we’ve had going with bushfires, Covid and drought – another way to be able to relax and enjoy themselves.
“This is just purely one of those activities that people can relax with,” she explained.
The schoolyard was filled with cheerful banter as students moved between activities on Friday.
Year 12 student Lizzy Smallwood had already been notified that her early entry application to a Bachelor of Arts in Hobart had been approved unconditionally. She said the RUOK? Day activities were a great excuse to wear coordinating yellow shirts with her friends and release tension after a tough senior year.
“It’s pretty fun to wear yellow and it’s a beautiful day,” she said.
“Tumut has suffered a lot with mental health and it’s good to connect with everyone. This is a good way to have fun with friends.”
Ms Smallwood said receiving early entry approval “takes a lot of the pressure off” Year 12. Since she’s not sure what career she wants to pursue, she said a B.A. would help her find a “soul-rewarding job” where she can interact with people and support others and “feel good about what I’m doing.”
Sitting next to Ms Smallwood, drawing chalk messages on the basketball court, was Pattie Garner. Ms Garner has opted to spend a gap year with the Australian Defense Force, working in Airbase Protection and Security with the Air Force.
“This is a good opportunity to just have fun on a Friday and get out of class and do some fun activities,” said Ms Garner.
“RUOK? Day is becoming a bigger thing. Everyone’s sharing the posts and everyone knows it’s here.”
Year 10 student Georgie Crain was part of the student mental health support group, named ‘Batyr’, which helped organise the day.
“It’s all about breaking that stigma about talking about mental health,” said Ms Crain.
“We need an open environment where people don’t feel afraid and don’t feel alone.”
Ms Crain said she joined Batyr to spread awareness about mental health issues and join a positive group of young people who could make a change.
“It’s important people take care of their mental health and we get our messages out there,” she said.
Mr Somervile said he was pleased with the way the Batyr group has been working within the student body at Tumut High, building a positive culture around mental health at a peer level. He said it was also valuable for the teachers to get to interact with students in a different environment.
“Mostly it’s just about social connection,” he said.
“One of the most important things from a staff perspective is us being able to interact with them in a different way, in a more relaxed, less teacher-y way.
“For us to be able to be involved in the activities with the kids and not just telling them what to do.”