SCHOOLS | May 14, 2021
May is Mental Health Awareness Month! Our school counselors play an important role in supporting our students’ mental health needs by sharing strategies and resources for dealing with stress and anxiety, helping them resolve conflicts, and creating a welcoming and inclusive school culture. They also partner with teachers and parents to ensure students have the supports they need in the classroom and at home.
Two of our master elementary school counselors are sharing their insights into the most effective tools to prioritize mental health and what they learned from helping students manage their academic and social-emotional needs during a pandemic. Now that students and staff have returned to school, they’re also touching on helping students readjust to learning in a classroom and their goals for the upcoming school year.
A Q&A with Dr. Catrena Craig, a school counselor at Bret Harte Elementary School
How would you describe your approach to mental health in a few words?
Patience and love. You need a heart of love to be able to reach and be genuine with the students. Unconditional positive regard and empathy are vital as well. Patience comes in because not all students are going to move at your pace or understand your advice right away.
What is a strategy you use to help students resolve conflicts that might be impacting their mental health?
I rely on peace circles. Just last week, one of my girls was upset that another girl no longer wanted to be her friend. So, I sat them both down to discuss this. As a counselor, what you need to remember is that the peace circle is not about what you want to see happen, it’s about empowering the students to reach their own goals.
Do you have an example of a way you were able to support the mental health needs of a student during remote learning?
I had one student who was really struggling academically and emotionally during the pandemic. She’s flourishing now, and the key was working extremely closely with her awesome mom. We held weekly Google Meet sessions to help her academically, and I helped the student’s mom see that she would need to pull back from some of the stuff she was doing to be able to provide additional emotional support for her daughter.
Now that staff members are back at Harte together, how are you educating them on best practices around mental health?
I do social and emotional learning (SEL) activities with students of all grade levels in their classes on a weekly basis. I also am involved in the grade level meetings and always try to sneak in some useful information around SEL and mental health in those as well.
A Q&A with Ms. Lissette Flores, a school counselor at Grissom Elementary School
What has been one of your top priorities as a school counselor at Grissom?
I’ve been focused on bringing in programs to help students feel more supported. I partnered with the YWCA to help students build better relationships, and I also introduced them to a bullying awareness program led by the African American Family Research Institute. My vision is to have a group of student peacekeepers who can help lead a shift in how students are treating each other.
How did you stay connected with students during the pandemic?
I created care packages and, since I live close to Grissom, I would drop them off at students’ homes. To support their mental health, these packages included self-help books, a journal, coloring books and pencils, and a stress or fidget toy. I’m big on journaling, especially for students who are having a hard time with self-esteem.
What other resources do you rely on to support students’ mental health?
I have a lot of resources that I share out through Google Drive. A big one is a list of 101 different coping skills students can use. Through supports like this one, I make sure to remind students to practice mindfulness and normalize taking care of their emotional well-being just as they would with their physical body.
What are your goals for next school year and beyond?
There’s still a lot of work to be done. I’m investing a lot of time into running the culture and climate team at Grissom, and I also want to continue doing advocacy work, not only for my students, but also for the role of counselors in general. This has been a challenging year for everyone, so I think an additional goal needs to be being kind and letting both students and staff know that they aren’t alone.
Social workers also help students grow socially and emotionally and develop strategies to prioritize their mental health. Check out our feature of two CPS social workers here.