With so many historical events happening simultaneously over the past year, we’ve all had difficulty processing and coping with the constant change, uncertainty, and chaos. Some of the most impacted individuals in our community are our students. Entire social structures, part-time jobs, daily activities, hobbies, and pastimes have been either reimagined in a digital format or completely eradicated. Luckily, our students don’t have to cope or come to terms with these changes on their own, they have the support of each other, our staff and faculty, in particular, the support of our counseling department.
From a student’s first year at SJND to the student’s last year, the counseling department is a constant factor in their daily school life. Each student is assigned one counselor who stays with them throughout their academic career. By keeping our student counselor ratio at a low 1:112 (the national average is 1:500), we are able to give more individualized and focused attention on the student’s needs. Our counselors help empower our students to pursue their dreams, from helping them explore their passions and excel academically, to guiding them through the college selection process, each student is given the tools they need to succeed.
What makes SJND’s counseling team distinctive is the individualized care given to each student. For example, our College Counselor, Allison Yee, meets with each grade 12 student individually over the first three months of the school year, and this year was no different. Counselors are always available to our students via chat, or by popping by their offices during in-person learning.
When we first entered into distance learning in March 2020, the counseling department faced uncharted territory and wasn’t sure what to expect. Lauren Sabia, academic counselor and associate director, notes that while “counseling through online video meetings has presented new challenges, it is nonetheless very rewarding and helpful for the students.” In fact she’s found that it is “easier for students to attend counseling meetings during distance learning, and they also appreciate and enjoy the opportunity to simply chat and check in about life more.”
Not all of our students have privacy at home and that leads to many of them being unable to talk freely, instead they rely on chatting with their counselor via Google Chat or Zoom. It can also be difficult to read body language while conducting an online session. This is why many of our counselors have purposely made the effort to be more present, turning on their cameras, and making sure each “session is a conversation, hopefully with me talking only a fourth of the time or less,” says John Gunty, director of counseling.
The most challenging thing for our students during distance learning has been the lack of social interaction. Maryanne Stehr, learning services counselor, laments that “it is difficult to see kids separated from the one thing that really feeds them at this developmental stage- their peers. They are so busy unconsciously separating themselves from their parents/families at this stage that their peers are everything to them. Now instead of being with those peers, they are spending most of their time with the very people (parents/family) that they want to be with the least (even if they really love and respect them).”
How can students navigate this new learning environment while dealing with the loss of their in-person peer interactions? While each student is unique and what seems to aid them varies widely, John Gunty outlines the following factors for distance learning success:
The world has drastically changed, but it hasn’t stopped, and we have all had to adapt in order to continue growing and thriving.
“I try to remind our students of what someone early on in the pandemic said to me–that we shouldn’t keep waiting for “after” or “when this is over” because our life is actually right now. This is life- just altered in many ways. We need to remember that things are not on hold and that what we do and don’t do during this time, this day, still matters.” –Maryanne Stehr