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Youth learn to build healthy relationships
Red Cross program making a difference at MUI in Rankin

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A program aimed at helping youth build healthy relationships is making inroads in Rankin Inlet.

Canadian Red Cross violence and abuse program manager Rebecca Ulrich of Winnipeg, Man., worked with teachers and staff members the first time she presented the Healthy Youth Relationships program at Maani Ulujuk Illiniarvik (MUI) this past October.

She returned this past week to support MUI and its Grade 9 health class.

Ulrich said she used a slightly different approach to deliver many of the same messages to the students.

She said the focus while working with staff members was to give them program tools and resources to implement in the classroom.

"With the students, we really wanted to help reinforce what they're already teaching in health class, but expand upon it and use it in a different way," said Ulrich.

"We used video and other interactive activities to talk about healthy relationships, whether with friendships or dating relationships."

Ulrich said she's received wonderful feedback on how things have gone since her first visit to MUI.

She said the support of MUI and Calm Air to get back to Rankin is greatly appreciated.

"The students have been really receptive and welcoming, and their participation has been amazing," she said.

"They really shared their experiences and ideas, and were really engaged in asking questions.

"It's been a wonderful opportunity to work with them."

Ulrich said one of the keys to the program's success in Rankin is how open the students have been to talking about violence in relationships, and understanding violence in an intimate relationship, family or community setting.

She said the students really focused on the strategies they can use to have healthy relationships.

"We find the students react in many different ways during the program.

"Sometimes they become really reflective, and might put their head down to think about what we're talking about.

"Other times, they might look across the room at a friend, girlfriend or boyfriend - I'm not always sure who they're in a relationship with - and you get the sense in how they're looking at each other that there's a message and understanding of what we're discussing.

"That tells me they understand they need to start thinking about doing something a little bit differently."

Jesse Payne, principal at MUI, is a big supporter of the program.

He said it covers a great deal of actual situations educators are dealing with.

"There's a greater need for us to work on the relationships people have within the school and with their peers, staff and parents," said Payne.

"This initiative is all about teaching students about strategies to improve relationships, recognize healthy and unhealthy relationships, and to really understand what healthy relationships look like.

"Rebecca's big role here is to work with students and teachers at the Grade 9 level and she's been doing an exceptional job.

"We had 12 staff members from MUI and Leo Ussak Elementary School take the three-day training program this past October and this was an extension of that program."

Payne said he was pleased when MUI was able to obtain the funding to bring Ulrich back to work with the Grade 9 students.

He said they're a very vulnerable group as they make the transition from junior to senior high.

"They're getting more involved in personal relationships and, also, it's a really emotional time for students at that age," Payne said.

"We want to be able to give them a lot better coping strategies, and a lot better strategies to be able to deal with relationships.

"And, of course, we also want them to be able to build good, solid, healthy relationships.

"That will work wonders in the school, because it helps them be able to relate to their peers, teachers and the staff members a lot better."

Payne said Healthy Youth Relationships falls into MUI's school program plan.

He said it supports a positive school environment, which is an ongoing goal at MUI.

"The program also falls into attendance, in that if students feel comfortable and safe, and have healthy relationships with their teachers and peers, they have a tendency to be in school more," Payne said.

"So, that's all part of our safe-and-caring-schools initiative, too, in trying to make students realize there are victims when it comes to things like bullying and unhealthy relationships.

"That's what this is all a part of: trying to build that capacity within the school so that we have good relationships and everyone gets along well within our school community."

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