School counselors are in a unique position to be leaders in creating systemic change within their school and beyond. I believe that meeting the needs of our students requires engaging with the community in which they live. Last year, my school counseling colleagues and I made significant efforts to reach out to our students’ communities by collaborating with families, outside service providers and local businesses to promote self-compassion and overall wellness for our students.
I am beginning my fifth year as the school counselor at Cherry Run Elementary in Burke, Va., which is a suburban community outside of Washington, D.C. In our division, the elementary, middle and high school counselors work as a collaborative team to support our students by using common language and initiatives. Data collected in 2016 indicated that many of our students were experiencing high levels of stress. In response, school counselors decided to design a Compassion for Self initiative. We were able to use advisory councils to engage parents and community members in our initiative and make sure the needs of our students were being met.
We researched outside service providers that could support our Compassion for Self initiative and found Rachel Bailey. She is a clinical psychologist and a parenting specialist who designed a presentation for our families titled “Raising Resilient Children: Fostering Positive Self-Esteem and Teaching Tools for Success.” We also worked with a local company called Zendoway that has designed squeezable cubes that outline self-care practices. We told the owner of the company, Kerry Wekelo, about our Compassion for Self initiative and how we were teaching students to use coping strategies to manage their stress. She loved the idea and asked the counselors to come up with their most frequently used coping strategies. Then she offered to design a cube specifically for us and generously donated one to every school counselor, psychologist and social worker!
In addition to working with service providers and local businesses, I also facilitate a few extracurricular activities to bring self-care practices to my students and the community. I offer a before-school yoga program for the students at Cherry Run. Yoga has been a great way to promote self-care and the students absolutely love it. I am also currently teaching a Mindfulness for Families class once a month for parents and children to learn mindfulness tools to reduce stress.
I am grateful for the opportunity to support students and families through a profession that I love. Working together, we can create the systemic change necessary to reduce student stress and foster self-care and overall wellness for our students.
Erin Hurley is VSCA Region 4 representative. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.