Senior Lecturer, Learning Intervention
Associate Professor Jon Quach is part of the leadership for the biggest ever mental health investment in Victoria, the Mental Health in Primary Schools project. And he still has time for gaming with his kids.
Q. Tell us about your background
My parents both came to Australia as refugees, and I grew up in a non-English speaking household, living in a low-income regional suburb. I had some wonderful teachers in primary school who supported my education, taught me English, and helped set me on a positive pathway through school and beyond.
After studying Science at the University of Melbourne (majoring in neuroscience and anatomy), I completed a PhD at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute under the supervision of Professor Melissa Wake and Professor Harriet Hiscock. The project involved developing a program for Foundation children with sleep problems called Sleep Well - Be Well.
Q. How did your PhD experience shape your career?
Sleep Well – Be Well was well-received, and has informed how students with sleep problems in a Victorian government and Catholic are supported. It’s also being adapted for children with autism and ADHD, and it’s being trialled overseas.
The program’s success influenced my current work, which is all about developing and testing solutions that will make a big impact for early childhood and primary school students and have knock-on effects in other areas. I’m interested in finding solutions that can be introduced at scale to tackle big problems.
Q. You certainly have some large-scale projects running at the moment. How is the Mental Health in Primary Schools project going?
It’s a new model that we’ve developed from the ground-up, where every primary school in Victoria will have a Mental Health and Wellbeing Leader. They will be responsible for building the school’s capacity to support student mental health and wellbeing. This includes aspects like helping establish care pathways; creating a common way for teachers, families and students to talk about mental health; and promoting evidence-informed approaches to support student mental health and well-being.
We’ve worked closely with schools throughout. They told us the most important thing is building teachers’ and school community’s confidence to identify and respond to children’s mental health and wellbeing needs, rather than simply having more health professionals.
We’ve already trialled the model with 100 schools and found positive outcomes for teachers’ confidence and ability in supporting children’s wellbeing, as well as student outcomes. Now we’re rolling it out to every primary school in the State; that’s 1,800 schools across the Government, Independent and Catholic sectors.
Q. How do you find working with schools with a non-education background?
I’ve gravitated back towards working with schools not just because they’re the best setting to reach lots of children, but also because I’ve learned through personal experience what a difference teachers and schools can make for a student’s outcomes.
When we’ve been developing our project we’ve been very mindful that teachers are the experts in their context, and we need to support them the best way possible. We’ve done a lot of focus groups with schools and really been guided by what teachers told us.
Q. What do you do in your spare time?
It’s all about spending time with my family. My wife and I both love watching sports, although we don’t necessarily go for the same teams. We have two boys aged nine and three and they’re both very energetic. We spend time at playgrounds, go on adventures in the city, and ride our bikes together. I love just watching them grow and their different personalities coming out. We also play a fair bit of gaming together, which often ends up in lots of laughter.