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The City Journals

Connection is key for counselors

Aug 12, 2020 02:39PM ● By Jet Burnham

Nic Hale and Amy Gibson, pictured at center, are bringing the skills they learned from the Copper Mountain Middle School counseling team to Hidden Valley Middle School. (Photo courtesy of Amy Gibson)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Hidden Valley Middle School is opening this fall with two award-winning counselors running the counseling department. Amy Gibson and Nic Hale were part of the team at Copper Mountain Middle School that was named Utah School Counselor Association’s Counseling Team of the Year.

“It was a phenomenal team, and I feel really grateful to have been trained by them,” Gibson said. “We'll take that very strong collaboration spirit with us wherever we go, Nic and I.”

Gibson and Hale want to establish a culture in which everyone feels welcome in the counseling center.

“Whether it's a parent, a teacher, a student, an admin, custodian, lunch worker, secretary—anyone in the school can come into our office and ask for help,” Gibson said. “It's going to be our job to create that connection. If you want to sum up Hidden Valley in one word, its connection.”

Connecting with counselors

Counselors often share resources and ideas with each other. Gibson and Hale still have strong ties to the team at CMMS. This year, counseling teams from all 12 middle schools in Jordan District are teaming up for the first-ever districtwide social emotional learning program. Mountain Creek Middle counselor Becky Hunsaker invited each team to develop a lesson and activity for one of the monthly themes. She hopes to free up their time to focus on individual student needs.

“As counselors, we're wearing more hats than we ever have,” Hunsaker said. “Our anxiety rates are just through the roof, and so we're needing to do more groups and individual counseling. We really need a strong [social emotional learning program]—something that we don't have to always recreate the wheel.”

Connecting with administrators and teachers

Successful counseling teams also collaborate with PTSA members, administrators and teachers.

Hidden Valley Middle Principal Shawn McCleod said the administration and counseling team have been meeting for months and will continue meeting weekly to discuss specific students’ needs. He is impressed with the counseling team’s collaborative spirit.

“They just have great energy,” McCleod said. “Their creativity is just really top-notch. They are working tirelessly to come up with ways to be involved in the classrooms as well as working closely with teachers so that they can collaborate on how best to support the social and emotional status of students and teachers.”

Connecting with parents

The Hidden Valley counseling center website (hvmscounseling.org) connects parents with information about the roles of the school counselors, psychologist and special education coordinator. Parents can use the online google form to request an appointment.

“We feel it's really important that any parent or teacher or student can get a hold of us with any questions they might have,” Gibson said. “It's a way for them to access us—especially where we aren't brick and mortar yet. They can go to our website right now; they can connect with us right now. They can see who we are and how we can be there for them.”

Connecting with students

Most importantly, Hale and Gibson said connecting with students is imperative for them to do their job.

“It's so important that the students see our faces know who we are,” Gibson said. “We really want to empower them, that as they need us throughout the year, they feel comfortable with us.”

The two counselors will greet students during the school open house and on seventh grade orientation day. They will also spend time interacting with students during lunch period.

“We just want to make sure that students know that they can come talk to us and they can trust us,” Hale said.

Connections through challenges

Gibson and Hale are preparing for a challenging year. They are ready to adapt to the needs of students, whether they are in the school building or not. Flexibility is an essential skill for school counselors.

“It's a day-by-day process of adapting and adjusting,” Gibson said. “You have half a second to adjust to any situation that pops into your office at any time. We just wear the hat of every type of person, and we just make it work.”

Gibson and Hale are excited to be a part of creating a culture of connection at a brand-new school.

“There's going to be challenges that come along with it, especially during this time, but we're just so excited to get to know the kids,” Hale said. “There's a new buzz when you start a new school. The fact that there's a new building is kind of like that new car smell. I think we're all really ‘vibing’ and feeling the energy from everyone else. It really is contagious.”