Leaving a legacy with SWAG

A new mental health initiative, the Student Wellbeing Action Group is set to be a whole lot more than just a great acronym in 2022 as Poppy Diamantis reports.

Image: Former Year 12 students from across six high schools in the St Andrews network of South West Sydney have left a wonderful legacy with the Student Wellbeing Action Group.

A group of former Year 12 student leaders from six high schools across South West Sydney have formed a Student Wellbeing Action Group (SWAG) to promote better mental health practices and awareness among their cohort and local families.

The idea started at an inter-school leadership summit in May 2021, where the final year students came together to discuss the future they wanted for themselves and their communities after COVID-19.

Each represented a school in the St Andrews network, around the Campbelltown area including Ingleburn, Leumeah and Macquarie Fields High Schools, as well as James Meehan High School in Macquarie Fields, Robert Townson High School in Raby and Sarah Redfern High School in Minto.

Meaning someone who has confidence and walks with attitude, SWAG is also an acronym for the group’s check-in framework of: ‘Seek and Speak’, ‘Wait and Listen’, and ‘Acknowledge and Go To’.

“When the school leaders met early last year, a common theme high on the agenda and shared by all the schools was student wellbeing and mental health,” said Luke Cox, a 2021 Year 12 student from Macquarie Fields High School.

“We wanted to put that into action and create a lasting program within each of the schools.”

Their first step was planning an RU OK Day event, in conjunction with other charities, that would start raising awareness of mental health and SWAG’s mission.

“Then of course COVID came along and we had to scrap most of our ideas,” Luke said.

“We met over Zoom with our supervising teacher and thought: how can we work around this? We thought we’d do an online campaign on our schools’ social media pages and run an online webinar for parents on mental health.”

Luke said there seemed to be a disconnect between different generations about their understanding of mental health and wellbeing issues.

“We wanted to breach that divide,” he said.

The SWAG team arranged and ran three online webinars for parents and carers during lockdown in partnership with youth mental health partner, Headspace.

One was for the general community and another each towards the Pasifika and Indigenous communities within the schools.

Following students’ return to school from mid-October last year, SWAG focused on enabling discussions about mental health within the school environment by promoting their SWAG check-in framework and available mental health and wellbeing services within each area of the network.

In the lead up to the HSC and end of year tests, the SWAG team implemented activities available to all students across the St Andrews network, such as 10-minute meditation sessions before assignments or receiving results, to help calm nerves and reduce stress and anxiety.

Head Teacher Teaching and Wellbeing, Macquarie Fields High School, Melissa Collins, said the students were also working on a podcast project and engaging with professional services including Headspace in Campbelltown on future opportunities.

“It’s really important for us to create frameworks that allow for student-led, authentic student voice to drive proactive discussions about mental health for students,” Ms Collins said.

“Not just so students better understand mental health, but so parents and carers can understand student needs around mental health too.

In 2022, SWAG’s focus will be ‘Unity through Community’ – whilst each school has its own unique community context, the students understand that inclusion and a sense of belonging is fundamental to student wellbeing.

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