Cathy Schweitzer, MS, LIMHP
The new shoes are purchased, pencils are sharpened, the smell of new crayons fills the air and boxes of Kleenex are loaded into backpacks. As we enter the new academic year, it is time for clinicians and the families we serve to get back into some sort of school grove.
Before going into private practice, I was a school counselor. I find myself thinking back to all the kids in the building with the sounds, smells, personalities, peers, and academics. School can be a place with such positive energy and kindness or it can be a frightening battle ground. The theme I continue to focus on is “loving the younger you,” so this time of the year, remembering what it felt like for me as a school counselor and as a student myself, enables me to find compassion, empathy and solutions for the children, adolescents and their parents.
As a school counselor I was always running in 50 directions to help whoever needed it; dealing with school anxiety, difficulties at home, academic and learning issues and of course friendship issues. The longer I was in the building and the more I grew to know the stories of my students, the more I realized how school can be an overwhelming and intimidating place for students and parents. Through this job, I was able to see the daily effects of trauma, poverty, loss, domestic violence, and all sorts of other situations. I learned about the school system and how to navigate through all the meetings and codes: MDTs, IEPS, SATS, 504 plans etc. It was good experience and helps me every day.
As I reflect on my younger self, I’m reminded that I was a pretty good student. My parents would make sure I was doing my homework and attended parent/teacher conferences. As a child, I did not experience the degree of trauma my clients have experienced, and my parents were healthy and stable; however, it was still rough. My sister experienced school difficulties. As I reflect on her experience, I often wonder today if she may have struggled with ADD or some sort of learning issue. I can remember being in my room while my parents and my sister would argue and cry about not turning in homework or not telling mom and dad about grades. This went on through high school… it was rough at times. The impact of my sister’s difficult schooling experience is still with her today. My sister was held back one year, and today, she says this did not help.
As this school year unfolds and we help families, spend some time reflecting on
younger self as a student and
own experiences. Help the parents you work with reflect on their younger selves as students. Keep in mind that as a country we are a long way from Trauma Informed Schools. Teachers, administration, and parents need support in navigating trauma and the effects in the classroom. School is an integral part of the childhood experience and it is up to us, the adults, to be compassionate, empathetic and solution finding. It takes a village!