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Free KouluPT exercise counselling service expanded to all Helsinki secondary schools

The City of Helsinki wants to improve the well-being and coping of young people after the long pandemic period by expanding the KouluPT exercise counselling service to all City of Helsinki secondary schools with the help of the coronavirus recovery aid. In close cooperation with school professionals, the aim is to reach the young people who need personal support to cope with everyday life. The long-term goal of the KouluPT activities is to reduce the obstacles to exercise experienced by young people and to promote independent exercise.

Of the coronavirus recovery aid received by the Culture and Leisure Division of the City of Helsinki, €450,000 will be allocated to support the well-being and coping of young people by significantly expanding the KouluPT exercise counselling service in the school year 2022−23. The number of counsellors has been increased from two to six, with the result that a dedicated KouluPT counsellor has been appointed for each City of Helsinki secondary school to provide pupils with personal support free of charge.

“The pandemic also hit secondary school pupils hard. The KouluPT service can be used to increase the mental well-being of young people, reduce their loneliness and encourage them to return to their hobbies,” says Saana Saarikivi, the project manager for KouluPT activities.

The exercise counselling service started as a pilot at some of Helsinki’s secondary schools in 2017, and it has been continued as an independent project from 2019 onwards.

Close cooperation with school professionals

The starting point of KouluPT is the national Move! measurements, according to which the physical ability to act of 40% of 8th-grade pupils in Helsinki is so poor that they have difficulties with managing their everyday lives. The schools will again conduct Move! measurements in September, and the impact of the pandemic may further weaken the results.

Young people who do not participate in the Move! measurements or whose results are of concern will be referred to an individual meeting with the KouluPT counsellor. If a teacher, school nurse, school social worker or other educational or health care professional becomes concerned about a 7th–9th-grader’s coping and lack of exercise, they can guide the young person to meet the KouluPT counsellor at least once. The initiative may also come from the young people or their parents/guardians.

More self-motivated exercise and time spent together

The KouluPT activities aim to influence the underlying factors of exercise and thereby to promote self-motivated exercise among young people in the long term. Another aim is to reduce the obstacles to exercise experienced by young people, to strengthen their self-confidence by trying out meaningful and sufficiently challenging exercise and to increase their sense of community by enabling activities in a small group with their peers.

At the first meeting, the KouluPT counsellor and the young person together explore the independent or guided exercise opportunities in the area. If the person cannot find a suitable form of exercise in existing services or has a need for longer-term guidance, it is possible to participate in small group or individual guidance that lasts four months.

“The young person meets the counsellor or a guided peer group a couple of times a month. Between meetings, they can keep in contact via the HeiaHeia mobile application in which the counsellors encourage the young people to be physically active through various everyday life challenges. The aim is to make physical activities a natural part of young people’s daily lives,” says Viivi Wallenius, who works as a KouluPT counsellor and as the project coordinator for the service.

The impact of the activities will be monitored through an initial and final user survey and a follow-up survey carried out six months after the end of the KouluPT period.

Photo: KouluPT counsellors Samuli, Viivi, Jani ja Ville. Photo by Maarit Hohteri.