Times Chronicle & Public Spirit
SCHOOL COUNSELORS ARE MORE VALUABLE THAN EVER
They serve as a built-in level of support that extends beyond only offering guidance on plans after graduation.
A student’s well-being is more widely considered at schools as a result of the issues plaguing many children.
These include the negative effects of social media, personal identity issues and the psychological toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.
School counselors are serving as a built-in level of support that extends far beyond only offering guidance on plans after graduation.
At Kimberton Waldorf School, a private collegepreparatory co-ed day school in Chester County, school counselor Natalie Schwartz provides support to children in their school environment.
“There is a relationship each child has with home life and school life and they intersect,” Schwartz said. “My role is to integrate those questions and experiences that might impact their experience at school.” Topics of focus might span from social pressure and academic challenges to teacher relationships.
Schwartz’s counseling support is available to children of all ages, from the school’s early childhood program through high school. Her services are also available to parents who have children enrolled at the school.
“It could be working with one child, to a group of children, to class meetings during school hours or parent meetings,” Schwartz said.
She shared the various instances when she might be called upon.
“A parent might reach out to me to see their child, a teacher might contact me, and kids themselves reach out,” she said. Some children might be in need of one session, while others might receive weekly counseling.
“I would see them once a week for six weeks and then assess,” she said. “I would refer them out if they need continuous care and a deeper need for therapy.”
For families seeking counseling for their child outside of school, Jeff Laubach
is a family counselor located in Spring Township, Berks County, who has seen the toll COVID-19 has taken on teens he counsels.
“Anxiety has been on the rise during COVID and is the most common issue brought up by the teens I am seeing,” Laubach said. “First, in dealing with the isolation of quarantine and virtual instruction and now, with re-acclimatizing to full-time school and face-to-face social situations.”
Laubach said he has seen a rise in teens seeking counseling.
“If they ask, parents should work hard to honor that,” he said.
In addition to his private practice, Laubach has worked with the Berks County Intermediate Unit and is part of the Berks County Crisis Management Flight Team.
“I’ve worked in schools after there has been a crisis,” Laubach said. “Sometimes it involves working with groups and sometimes individuals. The benefit is being able to provide services in a natural environment for the students.”
Schwartz’s counseling sessions at Kimberton Waldorf School give children a space to talk. She said that identity issues are a common topic she is seeing within her counseling work.
“Identity issues associated with feeling a pressure to belong to a group that they don’t actually belong to,” she said. “A big part of what I’m doing is to gently guide kids through that.”
An example she provided is someone who doesn’t identify with a particular minority group, whether that has to do with gender or politics, but joins for acceptance and to satisfy a need to belong.
“In this nebulous time, they grab hold of it too prematurely at a time when they aren’t developmentally ready to do so,” she said.
Schwartz said another area of increasing attention involves the impact of technology undermining kids’ self-confidence.
“It’s guiding kids through this difficult era with cellphones and social media,” she said “It’s manifesting into the phenomena of children having a lack of sense of self and being less sure of who they are.”
Schwartz said that COVID-19 likely impacted the rise in use of social media due to children yearning for connection during isolation.
At Kimberton Waldorf School, parents are encouraged to take the school’s recommendations surrounding their philosophy on media and recognize that there are inherent influences related to any kind of media.
According to Schwartz, having a cellphone can impact a time of complex navigation for a child.
“Kids might come from an intact family, but with the influence of social media, it adds a complexity to their emotional and psychological landscape
that they are navigating as they grow into adults in the world,” she said. “Kids without a phone are already going through this and it adds more complexity.”
She said that in the process of navigating this cultural trend, some parents don’t want to deny their kids a part of the world.
“I focus my work on how to guide parents into knowing how to hold back the phone and not feeling you are overprotecting your child, Schwartz said.
If a cellphone is part of a child’s life, Schwartz’s approach is different.
“It’s teaching how to engage in a positive relationship
with it and manage it,” she said.
Schwartz said she has witnessed the repercussions of cellphone usage.
“I have seen a definite difference in children’s behavior and emotional well-being from before they had a phone and after they had one,” she said. “I think every parent would agree with me on that one.”
Schwartz’s work doesn’t end with the students she counsels.
“A big part of what I do is circle back with the parent or teacher and have private meetings with them and put everything on the table and work it through,” she said.