MCSD Whiteboard: School counselors work to support students
Being a kid is hard.
Between the stresses and expectations of childhood — and yes, parents, try to remember back before bills and health insurance and whatever else bogs you down these days to a time when you had to face young people’s problems — and the challenge of taking them all on with a brain under construction, it’s just not as easy to be young as it sometimes seems.
One part of the mission of Moffat County Schools is to educate, but another important piece is to inspire kids and help them thrive in an environment of change. That takes more than teachers alone. MCSD’s great educators fill many roles, and often, “trusted adult” is one. But the truth is, a teacher’s primary job is to teach, and students also need and deserve someone whose primary job is to be a support.
That’s what school counselors are for. Moffat County School District is fortunate to have a bevy of spectacular, talented, dedicated and passionate school counselors. These folks, stationed across all of the district’s campuses, do a little of everything, but at the core of their role is to help put students in a position to thrive.
“Our basic roles are to foster wellness, social-emotional learning and mental health for our students,” said Stephanie Montgomery, one of the two counselors at Craig Middle School. “We help navigate those social-emotional needs our students have, and we do it at every level. Small groups, large groups, whole-school learning — traditionally it’s a preventative role. We don’t provide therapy. But post-COVID, the role has been reactive as well, coming from the other side to look through a new lens of how we help support students.”
Students at MCSD interact with school counselors under many circumstances — academic concerns, issues with friends, teachers or other relationships, and even struggles outside of school. Additionally, Moffat counselors go proactively into classrooms or other group settings to teach skills and provide tools for students who need them.
“All school counselors have certain standards,” said Paula Duzik, who started at Ridgeview Elementary this year after 28 years as the counselor at Moffat County High School. “The American School Counselor standards, there are basically three strands: social-emotional, career exploration and academics. Every school counselor program, including our district, follows those standards. Depending on how old the student is, there’s different aspects in those areas that we address.”
For example, Duzik said, at the elementary level, students are taught about making choices, resolving conflict, empathy and other key life lessons of that nature. Older kids get social-emotional training, but also lean on counselors for academic guidance and graduation preparation.
“My main goal is to give kids tools they need in order to succeed in school,” Duzik said. “The main reason everybody is in school is to learn, graduate from high school and be prepared to pursue a career. My goal is to get them ready to learn. If a student comes to school hungry, I’ll help solve that problem. If a kid comes upset about something from that morning, I’ll help work on that. The best learners are ready to learn, and I’m here to help students be ready.”
The job is challenging, but counselors at Moffat Schools call it extremely rewarding.
“I really like the chance of being there for students at any time they need it,” said Stacy Atkin, a first-year counselor at the high school who previously worked in the same position at CMS. “Sometimes they’re struggling and they don’t know what to do. Or sometimes you’ll just see that look on their face and need to ask, ‘Are you OK?’ Sometimes they open up. Sometimes not. But building those relationships with students for me is the most fun and rewarding thing with counseling.”
It’s never been easy to be a kid. And there are as many threats and hurdles to children now as ever, if not more. But resources like school counselors exist to help young people overcome and prepare to thrive.
“Our youth are struggling with a lot,” Atkin said. “Adults in our world today are, too. But a lot of these kids sometimes don’t have someone to just talk to. It’s amazing what can start with a ‘How are you doing?’ and can end up with a 30-minute conversation. The student is just trying to get out thoughts, feelings, and sometimes they need somebody to talk to. For kids who don’t have that, it’s a way for them to express themselves, think out loud and have a support. Someone to listen, to validate what they’re feeling, and to help them know it’ll be okay. Life can be hard, but there’s ways to overcome.”
Many of MCSD’s counselors have been or still are parents of MCSD students themselves. Montgomery has four kids including a preschooler in school. Atkin, a mother of eight, has four currently in Moffat County schools as well as a son who teaches at the middle school. For many counselors who are also parents, seeing the impact from both sides of the coin has been powerful.
“The way you talk to one kid has to be totally different from how you talk to another, even your own,” Atkin said. “The way kids learn is different. That’s helped me. When I’m talking with a student, I can see the bigger picture now and focus on the student’s whole well-being, really taking parts from everything I’ve learned, seen and done and try to bring those components together to find out what helps that one individual. And what helps one student with one problem, another student with the same problem might need something different. It gives me a view to respect that student as an individual and find out what their needs are and how to support them.”
Across the board, counselors serving all ages of MCSD students agree there are constants, however.
“I think students want to be heard,” Montgomery said. “Having that open atmosphere to share with someone how I’m feeling today, or this is what’s going on. And the biggest thing is building relationships with students. For them to know who you are and for you to get to know who they are. It has to be genuine. They need that.”
Moffat County is a great place to be, and MCSD’s school counselors’ efforts are another big part of the reason why.
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