As a school counselor, it’s my job to help students who are struggling–academically or personally–as well as guide them through the college application process. Doing that with the added pressure of a pandemic presented a very different kind of challenge that required a very different kind of solution.
When this all started, the most immediate concern for school counselors like myself was dealing with an increased number of students who were feeling stressed, anxious, or even depressed. In a normal year, my students could sit down with me and discuss whatever was on their mind. But in the absence of physical proximity and with an influx of students seeking mental health support on top of school-related challenges, one-on-one counseling sessions became incredibly difficult to schedule.
I offered virtual office hours as a short-term solution, but then I started thinking about longer-term solutions that would actually benefit my students even more–solutions that would prepare students to help themselves when one-on-one counseling may not be as readily available to them.
One solution I came up with is a virtual calming room, in which students can complete puzzles, color, or listen to soothing music. These seemingly unconnected activities give students the opportunity to self-regulate and cope with stress healthily on their own–an invaluable skill that they can carry with them long after graduation.
For the students who needed the opposite of more alone time because of pandemic-necessitated social isolation, finding ways to facilitate student interaction outside of the classroom was another top priority. At my school, I helped develop virtual small group sessions that focused on study skills, social skills, and coping mechanisms.
These sessions are designed to encourage students to connect with and support each other. This facilitation of authentic conversation about shared struggles and ways of coping is really a breakthrough when you consider how hesitant many of today’s adults are to do the same thing. Learning to cope together and be honest about one’s weaknesses is something powerful that should remain not only among this generation after the pandemic ends, but be passed down to future generations too.
My third and final solution addressed both of my counselor responsibilities–helping kids with their personal struggles and preparing them for their professional future. At a time when so much was scary and uncertain, I used Tallo to help my students reduce some of the additional uncertainty that comes with future planning.
Tallo is an online platform that allows students to list out their interests and accomplishments, as well as explore and apply for a variety of scholarships, internships, colleges and jobs. You can’t be what you can’t see, and Tallo helped my students use this time to still make great progress toward figuring out what they want to do and what they need to do to do it. Not every student needs or wants to go to college, and Tallo can not only help them figure that out, but create a resume, talk to recruiters and potential employers, and prepare for whatever comes next, whether that’s community college, trade school, or the workforce.
If I’ve learned anything from this pandemic, it’s that during challenging times, there are two key things you need to do to help a student. One is be creative, think outside the box, and take advantage of modern technology in the short term. The second is to think about the long term lessons that can be learned by this time–lessons that will help students help themselves today, and be recalled by students should they need to use them in response to whatever life throws at them tomorrow.
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