Close relationships create connected counseling

Illustration by Melissa Block

Melissa Block and Julia Scharf

In the next three years, Redwood’s school population is projected to grow from 1,800 to approximately 2,000 students. While the influx of students will have many positive effects on the Redwood community, such as more talented athletes to participate in sports, there are also a number of concerns that will have to be addressed. Among those concerns is increased pressure on the three counseling departments. They will be required to adjust their services to meet the needs of more students without a proportional increase in their own resources, like staff members for the counseling department.

Since it’s not feasible to increase the resources provided due to the recent budget cuts and the ratio-of-students-to-counselors policy in place, an evaluation of how those resources are distributed is helpful in ensuring that the counseling departments are still effective and useful to students.

Counselor Tami Wall, who has worked at Redwood for the past 18 years, believes that the effectiveness of the system is reliant on students following the outline properly, meaning they contact their counselor first with any problem or question before looking elsewhere for help.

“In general, the school counselor is the first point of contact––we are the point person for four years. Meg [Heimbrodt, College and Career specialist,] is awesome but there are different tasks for each grade level; it’s not like she’s staying with the same students for four years,” Wall said.

Students are introduced to counselors during their freshman year, and then only see them for their junior year meeting if they don’t request additional individual meetings at other times during the four years. This makes students responsible for taking the initiative to set up meetings if they have questions or concerns, according to Wall.

“I do think for a large public school [the counseling system] assumes self-advocacy. That is the size and pace of this environment. It’s not that we don’t reach out. We do, but how would we know that something’s going on for [a student] unless they let us know?” Wall said.

Another counselor on campus is Heimbrodt, who oversees students in all grade levels. She provides specific resources for applying to college, finding local jobs and exploring interests. Because she is responsible for assisting all students, her role is intentionally more specialized. Unlike the academic counselors who can be approached for a myriad of reasons, Heimbrodt’s role is intended to be limited to only topics concerning the college process and career inquiries. However, in actuality, Heimbrodt finds herself serving students for purposes beyond her job description.

“You sort of begin to build a reputation and so I think students feel comfortable coming to me, more so than ever before. I deal with a lot more personal things with students as well,” Heimbrodt said.

At any given time during the school day, the College and Career Center is likely to have a handful of students scattered around the room. Whether they are meeting with Heimbrodt or just relaxing at the tables with their friends, students are always welcome to enjoy the comfortable environment that Heimbrodt fosters in her room. Senior Davis Bason-Mitchell has noted how supportive Heimbrodt has been through his time in high school.

“The first day I ever came in here, I said I was trying to go to college. The next day she emailed me a list of 25 colleges with great art departments. She’s so incredible and her timing is amazing,” Bason-Mitchell said.

Despite it not necessarily being a part of her job description, Heimbrodt enjoys supporting her students in whatever way they need.

“I would classify myself as one of those trusted adults on campus that’s different than your counselor. My relationship is more like coming to a friend than a counselor. A counselor might talk you through something or solve a problem with you, whereas I might just be a listening board,” Heimbrodt said.

Heimbrodt believes that students may choose a particular counselor on campus over another because of the counselor’s unique approach or ability to help.

“I do think it’s a personality thing. You either hit it off or you don’t, and that’s what’s tricky about being assigned a school counselor. If you are getting counseling outside of school you might try one or two counselors before you find the right fit, so it’s a relationship thing,” Heimbrodt said.

Senior Achinthya Poduval is one of the many students who worked closely with Heimbrodt during his college application process, and in his experience, he connected more with her than his primary counselor. For Poduval, Heimbrodt serves as an adult mentor, and their relationship goes beyond that of a surface level college counselor.

“My regular counselor is a really cool guy, but I don’t have an emotional connection with him. With Meg, I can talk to her about anything outside of college too, just like a good friend,” Poduval said.

Poduval’s personal connection with Heimbrodt exemplifies how students may choose a different counselor besides their primary one for support. Additionally, Poduval believes that there is a certain perception about seeking help from the Wellness Center, which discourages students from utilizing it as a resource for emotional counseling.

“I think the Wellness Center is a little stigmatized. One of my friends was heavily depressed and she didn’t even want to go in [to Wellness] because she thought her friends would look down upon her, even though I wouldn’t have,” Poduval said.

Infographic by Julia Scharf

The possibly negative connotation associated with seeking emotional support from the Wellness Center complicates relationships with the counseling departments on campus. Students are not utilizing each of the three branches for the purpose they serve because they may not feel comfortable, according to Poduval. Because all counselors hold the necessary skills to offer support to students, the lines separating the three departments and their services become blurred.

Senior Greg Dachtler has not used the Wellness Center as a support system as much as he’s utilized his counselor, Lynne Kennedy, to provide him with one-on-one attention. Transitioning to Redwood, he needed to meet with her in order to discuss his Tourette syndrome and how to develop a plan for accommodations in the high school environment.

“She was super helpful in that respect and coordinating everything, in helping me deal with [the administration], teachers and smoothing out that transition period,” Dachtler said.

Dachtler has gone to Kennedy anytime he’s needed additional help or questions answered.

“I would almost always go and peak in her door and say ‘Hey, do you have a second?’ Mostly about class schedules, and college, she was super helpful in that way,” Dachtler said.

As many students expressed, the immediate connection and comfort a student feels plays a large role in their decision to return for more support. It becomes crucial for them to reach out to the different counselors on campus, whether it’s the Wellness Center, College and Career Center or their individual counselor, as each provides a different set of resources and the potential for a relationship for that student.