Stressed Students Find Assistance at Harriton

A question in the recent SI SIB Facebook group, created to raise support and awareness for various mental health issues, asked the members, “What are your thoughts on Lower Merion School District’s Counseling Program and how they deal with mental health?”

Surprisingly and disappointingly, of the 55 people who responded, 21 claimed that Lower Merion’s services did not help them with their personal problems, while another five said that they were just “okay” at helping.

Even more surprising is that 21 people stated that they have not gone to a counselor at all for their personal problems, despite the school providing many options. In fact, only five people responded that the counseling programs in LMSD were a great help to them.

While the members of the SI SIB group span across many local schools, many of the students who responded negatively to the above question were Harriton Students.

So what does this mean? Does Harriton’s counseling staff not do as helpful of a job as they could, or are students simply not utilizing resources available to them?

Actually, it seems that the Harriton counseling team and their initiatives are much more vast than many students realize. Of course, everyone has a personal counselor to whom they are assigned to, based on last names. These counselors, including Mrs. Carl, Mrs. Coleman, Mrs. Knight, and Dr. Havlick, deal with college recommendations and associated materials; however, they are also primary resources for students to use if they want someone to talk to.

Yet, the Student Services office extends even further. Dr. Fina, the school psychologist, reflects on her role at Harriton as being someone, “to advocate for students, whether that means academically, emotionally, or socially – whatever they need.”

Though this is only her second year at Harriton (she worked at Welsh Valley for  14 years prior).  She says she already loves her job.

“Most frequently, kids just walk in,” Dr. Fina stated. “I have an open-door policy, and if a kid shows up, that’s my primary responsibility.”

She encourages kids to reach out when they are feeling overwhelmed, noting that, “it’s been a tough year at Harriton. My number one concern is the level of anxiety that kids are having. I am blown away by the stress that they are under.”

And Dr. Fina is an excellent resource for those students to utilize. She is friendly, a great listener, and vows to keep absolutely everything said in her office confidential, unless of course she feels the student or anyone else may be in danger.

Students are also more than welcome to talk to Mrs. Brett, the wellness counselor, Mrs. Bowlby, the college access counselor, or Mrs. Manfre, Harriton’s own social worker. Mr. Bell, a mental health counselor, also just arrived at Harriton after Spring Break. All of these faculty members can be found in the Student Services office.

Mr. Eveslage, our school principal, also emphasizes the importance of connecting with an adult, whomever that may be.

“You hope that students aren’t experiencing these difficult times in isolation, because I think that that takes an already tough situation and makes it more challenging,” he said. “Does that mean that the people you talk to have all the answers? No. But the student will see that there are others going through similar situations, and it helps them manage their situation and broaden their perspective.”

Of course, anyone in the student services office is available for students to talk to, but sometimes it may be easier to divulge personal information to someone that the student already knows.

Teachers, aides, and coaches can all also be exemplary listeners and sources of advice. Both Mr. Eveslage and Dr. Fina noted how impressed they were with how Harriton teachers handle complex situations of stress.

Speaking with a teacher, and just letting him or her know what is going on, can help the student better manage themselves, as well as lend a level of understanding for the teacher. In many cases, these conversations can lead to possible extensions for works, helping to alleviate stress for the student.

Another resource available at Harriton is the START program. Over the years, this program has somehow gained a damaged reputation among students; however, the program is still up and running, and has been an extremely important resource for many students and families.

The program works through anonymous referrals by another student, faculty or family member, and strives to simply seek the best for an individual. Unlike other options, the START program supports a student with an entire team (that meets once every four days), not simply another individual.

Lastly, Harriton also has a “Mental Health and Wellness Resources” page (hyperlink here: http://www.lmsd.org/harritonhs/student-services/mental-health/index.aspx), which provides necessary contact information for other local resources.

Overall, the assets available at Harriton regarding mental health are abundant. The Harriton community has built itself to be geared towards helping the student at all costs, and hopefully students will utilize the free resources available to them.

However, the biggest take-away for a student would be that, just as Mr. Eveslage said, “It’s healthy to express how you’re feeling to those in which you confide.” And whether that person be a parent, close relative, teacher, counselor, or therapist, just letting everything out can be astoundingly helpful.