This week is National School Counseling Week. National School Counseling Week 2022 (#NSCW22) is Feb. 7-11, 2022, to focus public attention on the unique contribution of school counselors within U.S. school systems. National School Counseling Week highlights the tremendous impact school counselors can have in helping students achieve school success and plan for a career.  

 We have some amazing school counselors here in the greater Manchester region. We asked three of them about how they have been working during the pandemic to support their students and school staff. Below are some of the highlights.  

Rachel Hedge Dahmke, M.A. (she/her)  

School Counselor  

Central High School  

As school counselors we are always thinking out of the box, and we have really had to do that even more through this pandemic. I have found that having more wraparound services and building stronger community connections have helped to bridge the gap for students now, more than ever.  

 Communicating with students has also required a lot of innovation. Students are connecting with the world in diverse ways now and that has required us to think of new ways to reach all students. We are focusing a lot more on wellness strategies and career planning than ever before.  This pandemic has changed the landscape of education at all levels, and we are adjusting with it.  

 As a school, we are recognizing these obstacles and becoming more attuned to the needs of our students. We are implementing a daily mindfulness program for the school through our daily news program and Catherine Kabala, our amazing SAP, has started a wellness room for students to take a break during busy lunch times. We are also reexamining discipline and getting to the root of behaviors so we can be more proactive about identifying students in need. Overall, our school is thinking creatively to help our students through this pandemic and support them as best we can.  

 We have been really vocal with each other and collaborative. We are regularly sharing creative ideas and strategies with each other and brainstorming new ways to best serve our students and the school. At Central High School, our team is very closely knit and supportive of each other which has made us stronger as a unit; I can’t think of a better team. We celebrate our triumphs together and check in with one another to make sure we are each taking care of ourselves.  

 The teachers and other school staff have so much to deal with right now and their own obstacles to face and they are doing an incredible job of adapting every step of the way. We support them any way we can by acting as liaisons between them and families, communicating ideas and strategies, providing perspectives on students, and just listening to them and their concerns.  We have created an environment as a counseling department that is welcoming to all which includes school staff.  The school setting is such a unique one and school counselors are only successful if the rest of the school team is as well.  

Catherine Kabala, M.S.  

Student Assistance Counselor  

Central High School 

 As the school SAP Counselor I have seen an uprise in mental health concerns with students due to the pandemic. Students went from attending 8th grade to becoming a sophomore in high school. New school, new friends, new classes, new everything,  it is a complete culture shock. This has caused a lot of anxiety for students and at times makes them feel very overwhelmed while in school. SAP now offers a Wellness Room for students to attend during the day if they are feeling overwhelmed or just need a break from the fast paced environment of the school. The Wellness Room offers many different activities for students to do like meditation, coloring mandalas , making stress balls, reading anything that will help students destress and refocus for a moment. We are facing a mental health crisis nationally and as counselors we are continuing to find innovative ways to support students each day while continuing to support their academic needs.  

February is also Self Love Month. We have a fun challenge for students to complete by writing one thing they love about themselves each day for the month of February. If they complete the challenge there are special prizes for students. We are trying everything to keep our students motivated and reminding them that they matter and they will get through this hard time. The school counselors at Central continue to work together to bring mindfulness into the school. 

 School counselors are readily available to each other and the school staff to show one another support during these difficult times. When a staff or teacher is feeling overwhelmed we support each other more than before. It is a collaborative effort to make sure we can support each other, our students and their families. Although it is a very difficult time it has brought us closer together as a community.  

Jessica Bennett, EdS, LADC 

School Counselor at Bedford High School 

Our biggest focus right now is just meeting kids where they are at. We are working on rebuilding the school culture and morale which has obviously impacted during the past 2 years of remote/hybrid learning. We have seen great strides in our students working together to pull each other up. Seniors encouraging freshmen and all students supporting each other which is great to see. We have gone back to our normal classroom curriculum, groups and individual meetings in person which have provided a sense of normalcy for us and our students.  

The biggest thing with staff has been reminding them that we’re here to support each other, not just for students. We also started doing something called morale pals this year. Every staff member was assigned another staff member and we are supposed to do something small for them at least once a month as a way of appreciating and supporting them. You keep it a surprise who you have, and you put a little treat in their mailbox or write a nice card. It has been a nice addition this year and a way to connect with someone who you may not have otherwise. 

Thank you to our counselors that shared pieces of the work they continue to do here in the region. We are so grateful to all school counselors!