By Michelle Karamooz, a High School Counselor
As a school counselor, my interactions with students, parents, and teachers are consistently focused on the development of a students ability to communicate in order to be successful and thrive in any environment. On Friday, March 13th of 2020, I was told that I would not be returning to campus due to the shutdown and directed not to communicate with the students on my caseload until the school released more information. Over the course of that week I was sad, angry, confused, and concerned for the safety and well-being of my family, my students, their families, my colleagues, and my community. I received almost 1,000 emails from my students and families during that week. They all shared the same emotions that I had experienced and were seeking support and looking for answers. If you do not know already, school counselors are often the gatekeepers and the heartbeat of a school, we are a trusted source of information and a consistent support. I was quickly in triage mode to help students that I knew needed my immediate attention and by the end of the week I was implementing new systems to be that support.
Before the shutdown, I felt limited in student interactions, squeezing in meetings before/after school, during passing periods and nutritional breaks. After the school shutdown, I drastically increased my interaction with students via phone and virtual meetings. I worked from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm. I implemented virtual meetings for social and emotional support groups, college meetings, parent meetings, academic interventions, and regular check-ins.
I have learned that a connection can be created regardless of the method of the meeting. I met with students through text message, phone calls, Zoom, Skype, and even socially distanced on campus. I remember meeting with a 9th grade girl on Zoom just to check in with her and during our conversation I could see tears in her eyes. When I told her I could see her eyes welling up and if she wanted to talk about what was bothering her, she turned off the camera and muted herself. All I could do was talk to her and hope she would remain on the call with me. After a couple of minutes of me talking, she was brave and turned her camera on and slowly opened up about the struggles of being remote, being with her family 24/7, starting high school, friends, and her history of suicidal ideation. I have been forever changed as an educator after this past year and the hundreds of interactions similar to this young lady above.
I have always considered myself a forever learner and I have pursued more professional development this year to further grow in the areas of mental health, racial justice, equitable practices, and trauma-informed practices. In looking back at this year and the many challenges we have all faced, one word resonates with me…resilience. Despite everything, I am witnessing and experiencing growth and a new appreciation for connection.