INSIGHT: Counseling at EPS During a Pandemic

By Paul Hagen, Director of Student Well-Being

How do we provide high-quality, consistent, and accessible support for students during a pandemic when school has shifted to a remote model? That was the question the counseling team asked last March as COVID shut down campus and students logged onto classes in Teams. This was uncharted territory, and we knew it would require new, creative approaches to how we do counseling at EPS. Thankfully, with three extraordinary counselors, we were well prepared to take on that challenge.

The goal has always been to provide our students with the support and skills they need to manage emotions, process challenging situations, navigate difficult social dynamics, cope with stress, and deal with all the complexities that adolescence brings. None of that has changed. But this year, on top of all the perennial concerns that arise during a school year, we faced a pandemic that brought with it isolation, fear, grief, fatigue, frustration, a sense of loss, and strained relationships for many. Our counselors didn’t skip a beat as they quickly transitioned from their offices on the third floor of TALI to Teams.

The counselors continued to design and implement our Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum as part of the advisory program, trained and guided Peer Mentors as they worked with Middle School students, and hosted virtual grade-level lunches and optional discussion sessions with students throughout the year. Each week our counselors shared insights on maintaining mental health in the “Counselor’s Corner” feature in the weekly Student News.

Of course, there are times when individuals need additional support. Throughout this challenging year the counselors worked to ensure that every student at EPS knows who they are and how to access their services. They setup a Bookings calendar so students could easily set up a session with them, they dropped into class meetings to introduce themselves, and they created the email address so students would always know how to get in touch. One of the unexpected benefits of remote counseling was that students could meet with a counselor from anywhere through Teams. This made our counselors more accessible to more students.

Another surprising gain for our community during this difficult year was the development of a greater sensitivity to the mental and emotional needs of others. We have always been a caring community, but this year we are checking in on each other, extending kindness, encouraging others, and tending to the needs of the community more than ever before.