Our Catholic schools pride themselves on teaching and caring for the whole child. In addition to our longstanding reputation of academic rigor, Catholic schools also focus on fostering each student’s social, emotional and spiritual development. This distinguishes us from other schools and is initially what called me to this line of work.
I will never forget my first year as counselor at St. Edward. I asked a group of kindergarten students, “Who can you talk to if you’re ever struggling or having a tough day?” One student raised his hand and responded, “God.” I was so impressed that such a young child had made such a profound connection between his faith and his emotional well-being!
In that moment, and in many others since then, I found myself appreciating the fact that I can teach and encourage my students to talk to God, ask for his help and lean on him in times of need. It is so powerful to be able to pray with students as they face difficulties and challenges. In other counseling settings sharing your religious beliefs is not always encouraged or advised. Yet, in Catholic schools, we have the special opportunity to emphasize and utilize our faith as the foundation for student success.
This unique distinction of caring for the whole child has been especially highlighted over the past few school years. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry declared a state of emergency in children’s mental health as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC reported a 31% increase in mental health-related emergency room visits for children ages 12-17 in 2020. It is no surprise that this pandemic has taken an emotional toll on us all — students, parents, teachers and faculty. How can we expect a child to learn when their mental state is wavering?
As a diocese, our counselors recognize this trend and are working hard to support the social, emotional and behavioral needs of our school communities. Our role in the school is to provide counseling support in individual, small group and classroom settings. School counselors work with teachers to implement evidenced-based, social-emotional learning (SEL) lessons that promote emotional growth in concrete ways. These lessons focus on building interpersonal skills, self-esteem and responsible decision-making. SEL practices help students develop healthy identities, manage strong emotions and achieve their personal goals. Counselors also instruct the “Speak Up Be Safe” curriculum, drug prevention programs, mindfulness practices and so much more.
Prevention and early intervention are essential to promoting positive health and well-being among students. Last year, I served on a committee of counselors to research and select a common suicide prevention curriculum to implement in Archdiocesan schools. The Signs of Suicide prevention program is now taught in our middle and high school classrooms to help students recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and connect them with life-saving resources if needed. The goal of bringing this program into our classrooms is to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and encourage seeking help for self, a friend or family member.
We know that your child is the most precious human in your eyes. Likewise, your child, and all the students we serve are precious to us too. In light of these recent, unconventional school years we have faced, it is vital that we continue to support students and their families across all facets. Caring for the whole child is our call to action. Through Christ, we guide and nurture those who enter our buildings each day. I am proud to work in a Catholic school where we recognize that a child’s social, emotional and spiritual well-being are key ingredients to a happy, healthy and successful life!
Kary Stivers Scinta is a counselor at St. Edward School.