National School Counselors Week

A perfect time to recognize who they are and what they do
By: 
MIRIAM CAMPAN
Reporter
Tuesday, February 4, 2020
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Nycole LaRowe, with numerous degrees, is the school counselor for grades K-3.

Photos by Miriam Campan

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Teresa Majerus provides counseling services at both the junior high and high school. 

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Ashley Jenness is the counselor at Highland Park and Garfield Schools. 

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Karen Durbin counsels students at the high school.

“During times of crisis, school counselors are like EMT’s on the front lines serving our school population,” said Teresa Majerus, one of four counselors responsible for the academic and emotional needs of local students. 

 Nycole LaRowe,  Ashley Jenness, Teresa Majerus and Karen Durbin are the school counselors who provide both direct and indirect services to the 1,153 students enrolled in the Lewistown Public Schools. Direct services involve engaging students either in the classroom or during group or individual learning sessions. In providing indirect services, school counselors participate in meetings with community members, and serve on a variety of teams, both in school and with other professionals.

According to the District’s adopted philosophy “The Lewistown School District’s Multi-Tiered System of Support is a school-wide process allowing schools to implement interventions as needed. We address both academic and behavioral needs. The Lewistown Public Schools believe students should be taught all the skills necessary to be successful academically, socially, emotionally, and behaviorally.”  

MTSS lists three categories of tiers. Tier I focuses on high quality academic and behavioral support for students. Tier II is directed towards students who require additional support beyond Tier I. Tier III addresses students who need more intensive and individualized interventions than what is offered in Tier I or II. At the Tier III level, appropriately trained personnel will most likely provide support and interventions outside of the school. 

 

Services begin in Kindergarten

Nycole LaRowe, has been the K-3 school counselor for the past four years. With numerous degrees and a Masters in counselor education, LaRowe embraces the proactive approach adopted by the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support.

A typical week for LaRowe has her instructing classroom lessons on feelings, conflict resolution, self-acceptance, bullying, and self-control while one-to-five students a day seek her out for individual social/emotional counseling. In her group counseling sessions (eight per week with four to five students) the objectives address the importance of kindness, emotional regulation and the trauma of a family in dissolution.

One of her small groups called “FISH” or Families in Separated Homes happens to be one of her favorite groups. 

“For both individual and group counseling I see problems with divorce or separated parents,” LaRowe said.

Students grades K-3 have difficulty identifying their feelings and often feel adrift with a lack of understanding the situation.

“My parents were divorced when I was 8. And it is really easy for me to relate to feelings before, during and after their separation. During sharing with a student I said, ‘release,’ and the child said, ‘You felt it too?’ That was a real crucial moment. They didn’t know it was okay to feel better that the divorce was done. It was nice to see the student take a nice exhale,” said LaRowe.

LaRowe explained that children who experience their family’s dissolution typically feel guilty and it is “okay” for them to feel relieved. In group or individual counseling they find out it is appropriate to feel those emotions.

LaRowe also likes speaking and working with parents on a variety of issues that may affect the child during the school day.

“Parents call pretty frequently with every type of concern. Most parents are really good about reaching out on changes of behavior. Maybe they want to talk about the first time ‘mom is leaving the house,’ or there might be an issue where I’m able to visit with the student,” she said.

 

Giving hope to youngsters

Ashley Jenness, the school counselor for grades 3-6, conducts classroom lessons, small group and individual counseling for all three Tier levels.

Jenness plans for 12 classroom lessons per month on issues such as bullying, healthy friendships and healthy choices. New topics are now introduced, such as career goal setting, perception taking, growth mindset, lessons on suicide and what is called “hopeful mindset.”

The hope she addresses is also discussed with what is called lessons in ‘Growth Mindset’.

  “The hopeful mindset, or suicide lesson, is a gentler version of what is taught at the junior or high school. I do SOS or Signs of Suicide. I don’t focus on suicide per se, but what gives you hope. You have something to look forward to. If you feel this way, talk to someone about it, people you can trust. There is a stigma with feeling this way and saying we are sad. Suicide is something we (LPS) take very seriously,” Jenness said.

Jenness continues, “It is basically just having a flexible mindset so you are able to grow. Instead of thinking we are stuck, we think with a ‘yet’ mentality.”

Many of the students she interacts with at this stage in their education may suffer from anxieties such as tests, coming to school, and challenging subjects. Students are taught strategies to combat them. One strategy is to take a moment to breathe or saying something like, ‘I don’t understand this math problem . . . yet’.”

Like LaRowe, Jenness provides small group instruction for two to three groups per grade for eight weeks. A teacher, the principal or the student’s therapist refers students to small groups to practice friendship skills, discuss changing families and explore other tools such as emotional regulation. Jenness provides individual counseling on an “on-call” basis or through referral.

 

The importance of being an ‘upstander’

“I started crisis counseling right off the bat due to the death of the current counselor at the junior high school. That’s how I started,” said Teresa Majerus.

Majerus divides her time between the junior high school and high school.

 “The junior high has always been my main place,” she added.

Majerus is EMDR trained and a licensed therapist. 

She said, “I picked up my private license four or five years ago and I wanted to do a private practice. I love what I do.”

Majerus, however, remains a school counselor. 

“I feel like I can reach so many kids as a school counselor. I try to be proactive instead of reactive. I’m here to work for the best interest of the child as long as I focus on that program of Tiers I, II, and III. Because of that MTSS program we teach so many angles of prevention and healthy relationship skills.”  

Bullying is a topic all the counselors address.

Majerus said, “Chad Armstrong provided five lessons on bullying with the focus on being an ‘up-stander not a bystander.’ They learn to see bullying happen. We teach this lesson for 7th and 8th graders. The kids learn something bad is going on with another student like bullying, suicidal ideation, physical, sexual or emotional abuse, and become an upstander. My favorite part is to see students take what they learned throughout their school life and step up to talk to a trusted adult.” 

Deputy County Attorney Jean Adams works hand-in-hand with Majerus on the topic of sexual abuse. She addresses the laws of consent with students.

Majerus said, “The kids know the laws when they come to high school. They know the right and wrong . . . what the law says.”

As with the other counselors Majerus agrees that the majority of students are healthy and happy, and go off and do great things.

“Lewistown, we have good kids and when kids leave here they have the potential to do great things,” she said.

 

Having a willingness to listen

Karen Durbin began her school career with a degree in home economics and taught for over 30 years in Moore and in Lewistown. She acquired a Masters in school counseling, but continued to teach until a short four years ago.

“When Robert Rutledge (former school counselor) passed away, the school asked me if I was interested in being a counselor full-time. The more I thought about it, I thought it would be a really nice change. I get to work with kids on a different level and I think it has challenged me, because I am very much a planner and I can’t plan because every day is different and unique.” Durbin said.

High school students are not without their struggles with the onset of adulthood upon them.

“When I started this, I thought the career planning and college prep would be great. I love watching kids being able to grow. The thing that is most difficult is watching kids struggle with relationships, family issues, depression and anxiety. Watching those struggles and helping them understand them and work through them is rewarding. Over the years I’ve had to deal with some tough stuff.”

“Suicidal ideation is tough stuff,” Durbin said.

“Personally I think a lot of it is social media and kids being able to say things to one another and not see the facial expressions. You see so much from how a person reacts from their face. Kids feel they can say whatever they want to because they don’t see how it affects someone else,” said Durbin.

According to Durbin the attributes of a good school counselor include being kind, compassionate, empathetic and willing to listen.

She added, “You don’t have to be a problem solver, but a helper. As a helper the kids have the tools they need. They learn to say, ‘If I don’t have the tools, I do have the resources I need to solve this problem.’ I get to work with a lot of great kids and there is a challenge every day.”

 

Part of a team

The counselors meet regularly with one another and provide support, insight and encouragement. On a regular basis they also meet with other licensed therapists, child and family services, teachers, parents and other agencies that are involved with the school population. 

National School Counseling Week is a good time to shine a light on the four Lewistown Public School District counselors, who represent the over-100,000 school counselors across the nation.

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