Being a school counselor requires compassion and patience as well as good interpersonal, listening and communication skills. School counseling has shown to have a positive impact on youth, teachers, administrators and families.
Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness has had a presence in Wallowa County Schools for nearly 20 years. The center originally collaborated with the Education Service District to provide preventative services in the form of curriculums related to violence prevention and bullying. Over the years, funding and programming changed, however; counseling and screening services continue two days a week in each of the three schools.
School counselors provide screenings and brief services to determine a child’s needs. Counselors may also connect with families and provide support to teachers so that behavioral plans created with a child can also be implemented in the classroom as well as at home.
In the event of a crisis, the school counselor may be first to respond. The center has a mobile crisis team trained in threat assessment along with a broader team of people in the community including folks from the Enterprise School District, the county’s juvenile department and law enforcement. The team assess a threat with school personnel, school counselor, child, youth and family to plan services according to the need.
Several programs are offered throughout the school year. One of our longest running programs is called Natural Helpers. This program is a researched- based, peer support program where trained students provide interact with other students and make referrals to people who can help.
This program began approximately six years ago and has trained many students in all three schools ages 13-18 to provide support. Natural Helpers is a collaboration with the Prevention Coalition and Building Health Families.
Training is provided each summer before school begins for both new students and trained students. Natural Helpers meets monthly with a facilitator who shares educational materials about typical problems youth face as well as mental health topics and substance use topics.
This year we are focusing on enhancing services for substance abuse in youth.
Among school counseling challenges is hiring staff. Oregon is experiencing a workforce shortage with many graduate degree positions. Other challenges historically have been with funding but are somewhat resolved by providing services at the current level.
If more funding were available, we could potentially be in the schools more often.
Lastly, a generalized challenge is carving out counselor time for relationship-building with teachers, staff and administrators.
Mental health prevention begins with our youth population to raise personal awareness of mental health issues and lower the stigma often associates with receiving mental health services. If you know a youth who is struggling, please call at 541-426-4524.
Chantay Jett is executive director for Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness.