All In The Campaign for Blair Academy 2018-2025
project ally meeting in office
Meet Blair’s Counseling Team: Part Two
Ashley Schreyer

In part two of this series, we shift the focus of Blair’s counseling team toward the future, discussing goals, programs and tips for the new year. If you missed the first part of the story with Director of Counseling Ally Thomas and school counselors Melany Jimenez and Tara Prezioso ’96, take a look back at getting to know the team here.

Q: What goals does the counseling team have for the new year?

A: [Mrs. Thomas] The counseling department is always focused on supporting individual students, prevention programming for the School and partnering with the adults in a student’s life. As we enter a new year, we’re reflecting on what is working well and where we can continue to grow the program. 

With the opening of the 2023-2024 school year, the counseling department was intentional in normalizing mental health for students and faculty as something we all have, while placing emphasis on the fact that having good mental health does not necessarily equate to feeling good all the time. Our students are growing up in a time where they’re navigating all the normal stressors of being an adolescent while also juggling social media, AI, world conflict and much more. We often find that students are having very normal reactions to their experiences, but that they—and sometimes the adults in their lives—start to worry about the negative emotions that come along with that. 

We take a systems approach in our work around supporting students. We know how important one-on-one support is in the counseling office, but it’s not nearly as effective as a community approach to care. One of our continued goals around this for the new year is to keep finding ways that we can collaborate with faculty and staff in support of students. Blair has a new Student Health and Well-Being Committee where different departments come together to discuss common themes and develop strategies to enhance our student experience. An area of focus that the counseling department is looking forward to advancing has been partnering with the health center and athletics around healthy eating and positive body image.

In addition to student programming, we’re always thinking of ways to support the adults in students’ lives. We want to continue to offer informative webinars through the Parent Health and Well-Being Series that was started this year. We also plan to continue providing professional development to our faculty and staff. We know that adult well-being impacts student well-being, and that the more equipped adults feel to handle different student needs, the better the outcomes for students. 

Prevention programming for the next school year is also at the forefront of our minds. Our students recently took the Authentic Connections survey and we’ll be spending time in the spring thinking about topics to address needs identified by our students. Having data inform our programming is a huge benefit to our community!

Q: What are some small things that anyone can do during the day as a mental health and well-being check of sorts, something to give themselves a break or pause during the day?

A: [Ms. Jimenez] Anxiety is a big theme in our offices. While anxiety is a normal and sometimes helpful human emotion, it can sometimes impact us in negative ways, so it’s important to find ways to manage it. This looks different for everyone and we help students find what this means to them. Currently, there’s a big emphasis on the mindfulness movement, and while this consists of some great tools and techniques, this doesn’t work for everyone. The goal of mindfulness is to focus the mind on being present. Our goal as counselors is to help students find what these strategies or tools look like for them. For some students, this can mean taking time to disconnect socially or finding a physical activity they enjoy. For others, journaling or specific breathing exercises can be really effective.

Sometimes we don’t realize how big of a difference little things can make. For instance, taking time to connect with a friend after a particularly busy week or taking a moment to pause before moving on to the next task. Also, listening to our bodies can go a long way! Checking in with ourselves to see if we’re feeling tired or anxious and then doing something to meet that need. Taking a break from our phones during the day to take a walk outside, listen to music or do something else you enjoy can also be a great way to disconnect and check in. 

Q: What upcoming programs are you most excited about?

A: [Mrs. Thomas] As I look forward to the spring, I’m excited to be a part of Blair’s Equity Lab Day, an all-community learning experience led by Dean of Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Evan Thomas. Last year, I was able to provide a faculty and staff professional development session called Systems and Drivers of Behavior. It was a meaningful experience where I was able to connect with my colleagues and share a bit about the lens I use in my work to support students. It also gave me an opportunity to highlight the importance of their roles and give them tools to increase connections with students. I’m excited to continue the conversation around supporting students using a DEIB lens and to connect with my colleagues in this unique way!
 

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