An Interconnected Culture of Belonging

Counselors, Community, Commitment: A Network of Support

As WT expands and deepens its commitment to wellness, equity, inclusion, and justice, each community member plays a part in helping students to feel safe, seen, supported, and included. Middle School Counselor Sara Leone and Upper School Counselor Asia Shannon know that more than most.

middle schoolers work on balloon project
Upper School students Sofia Shapira (L) and Kamili Wiley (R) build their own stress balls as part of “Wellness Wednesday,” a monthly program designed to promote stress relief and build community.

“We must be proactive in ensuring that our curriculum, programming, and interventions are preventative in nature, and tailored to the needs of our students. This starts with Social Emotional Learning (SEL)­—the foundation of a student’s well-being,” notes Shannon. “Research shows that students who participate in effective SEL programs show increased academic performance, improved classroom behavior, an increased ability to manage stress and depression, and have better attitudes about themselves, others, and school in general.”

“Middle School is often a time for social uncertainty anyway, and the pandemic conditions have intensified that; some students are experiencing challenges in making meaningful social connections in ways that feel authentic,” adds Leone. “This can lead to feelings of anxiety or loneliness. The good news is, WT was already doing a lot of work in this realm. SEL skills like empathy, self-regulation, and self-awareness are intentionally built into the Middle School experience.”

Solution-Focused Strategies

While social uncertainty has long been a challenge for Middle School students, an Upper School student’s stressors are more likely to include academic pressure, fear of failure, and conflict within friend groups. Each issue requires a different approach, and WT’s commitment to well-being goes several steps beyond, recognizing that solutions vary not only from struggle to struggle, but student to student.

“My counseling style is one that is solution-focused,” shares Shannon. “My goal is to highlight the strengths and attributes of our students, shifting their focus from the problem to their capabilities of solving the problem. For student conflicts, I find that providing space for students to express their thoughts and feelings, directly to the other party, is an effective strategy. It gives students an active role in solving their own problems.”

Middle School strategies, says Leone, are integrated throughout the day. “Our goal is to help students feel safe, heard, and like they belong to their school community through developmentally appropriate, deliberate approaches, such as our Student Wellness Mission Statement, a hands-on and active advisory program, and an SEL curriculum in all Middle School Health classes.”

“Communication is Key”

As vital as Leone and Shannon’s roles are, they always circle back to the imperative of a community-wide network for student wellness.

“Communication is key,” Leone states, unequivocally. “As a group of professional adults serving a school community, our number one goal is to keep students safe and well. I want students to realize they have a team of people supporting them as they figure out who they are, and how they want to contribute to the world around them.”