Student film encourages positivity in the face of COVID-19

Students at West Kildonan Collegiate wrote and produced a video making fun of their sterile high school experience during the COVID-19 pandemic as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.

“This video gives us an opportunity to show kids that they’re not alone,” said Grade 12 student Raegan Foster, who helped produce the video.

“COVID-19 has presented many people with struggles and there are ways we can overcome that and opportunities we can use.”

The short film Be Positive will be posted on the school’s Instagram account as well as the website of non-profit child psychology resource Kidthink.

Raegan’s twin sister Keira said as a Grade 12 student, her mental health has taken a beating, but she and her classmates have faced it like champs.

“We, as grade 12s, have done many things to help this, like just buying grad dresses and suits,” Keira said, “taking pictures just for the sake of having that memory from this year.”

Grade 11 student Jordan Dearsley acted in the student-made film Be Positive and participated in and helped organize many of the mental health awareness activities at West Kildonan Collegiate. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

In the short video, Grade 11 student Jordan Dearsley plays a young girl complaining to her classmates about all the things she’s missing out on in high school.

Rather than allow her to wallow in negativity, classmates encourage her to look on the bright side, telling their own stories about all the positive things that have happened during the COVID-19 restrictions. Some have made new friends, some got dogs and one brags about having a six-pack from all the exercise she has been doing. 

The smiles and laughter lead to gratitude. 

Acting in the video was therapeutic for Dearsley.

“Over the pandemic, my mental health got a little bit worse,” Dearsley said.

“My panic attacks came back and they can be really difficult, and they can be really tiring.”

Working on the video gave her a sense of purpose.

A note on a gratitude tree illustrates the need for mental health awareness. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

That was exactly the result Grade 12 student Diogo Iwasaki was looking for from the video.

“Mental health awareness is a very important thing,” said Iwasaki, who was a writer, producer and performer in the video.

“If you want something to improve, obviously you need to get it talked about more often, and if it’s in a way that’s more friendly and approachable to people of our age, I’m assuming the reach will be a lot larger.”

Helping fellow students was important to Iwasaki.

“You never know when even a small little thing could completely help out someone, maybe even save their life.”

WATCH | Students talk about high school life during COVID-19:

Students at West Kildonan Collegiate in Winnipeg wrote and produced a film that encourages classmates to focus on the positive during COVID-19 restrictions. 2:51

The West Kildonan Collegiate video was produced by Stand Together and Grow, a student-run group focused on mental health.

In the last two years, STAG has planned mental health weeks with school-wide events, including loot bags with encouraging messages, virtual dances, meditation — anything to alleviate the bad feelings associated with COVID-19 restrictions.

Co-ordinator and teacher Tammy Harder sympathizes with her students.

“I feel like I’ve apologized a lot to the students this year,” Harder said. “Kids have really suffered.”

They only attend half time, often on the opposite days from their friends, and there are no activities or organized sports, she said.

“Kids had the right to be angry and upset and grieve it and miss it and we wanted to recognize that in the video,” Harder said.

Yet the film took a positive direction.

“It was great to see the students come together and say, ‘OK, what is great about COVID?'” Harder said.

The need for mental health work in schools is illustrated on the gratitude tree that was created as part of Mental Health Week activities at West Kildonan Collegiate.

Students wrote thank you notes that were attached to a wooden frame to create the leaves on the tree. Some mentioned their friends and family, sports and part-time jobs they still had.

One note, tucked behind the rest, illustrates the incredible stress the pandemic has caused.

“[I’m grateful] for not giving up on my life when I wanted to.”

At the end of the video, Dearsley’s character decides to stop complaining and join her classmates in celebrating the positive things that come with being a high schooler during COVID-19.

For Dearsley, the fun of being part of mental health week was real and not simply a consolation.

“With mental health week and helping to plan all this and getting to act in this fun video, they’re the things that make it good. It’s not just bearable, it’s good.”

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, there is help out there. Contact the Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line toll-free at 1-877-435-7170 (1-877-HELP170) or the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone.

Or contact Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (text, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. CT only) | crisisservicescanada.ca