In rural school districts, teachers and staff can often wear a lot of hats. When it comes to addressing mental health and taking care of students, the responsibility is shared between teachers, counselors and other administrators. This is true in Eldon, where elementary school teacher Katie Schulte and high school counselor Tara Jenkins sat down to talk about looking out for their students' mental well-being.
Tara Jenkins: I'm the high school counselor. As counselor, I handle a lot of the everyday mental health concerns that go on. And then also scheduling, testing, career and college planning: I see a lot of issues with just peer relationships, there's a lot of drama that happens between a friend groups in high school. And there's also issues that I kind of classify under an umbrella of depression and anxiety type issues. And it's just a lot of times it's dealing with the pressures of school, they're beginning to work for the first time also. And just the everyday stresses that go into being a student, and then also being part of a family that sometimes doesn't always have all the means that they need to.
It's greatly changed just within the period of time that I've been out of high school, I graduated from here in 2007. I never would have dreamed of talking to the counselor whenever I was in high school. And it was -I mean- the only reason that you went to the counselor was if you needed, you know, help in signing up for the ACT or you needed to transcripts. There really wasn't a huge focus on mental health. But I feel like over the past few years, just in me being here, I think this is my sixth seventh year, and even within that time period, I feel like kids have gotten a lot more comfortable in expressing emotions, and more positive way and being able to say, like, this is how I'm feeling because of this. And they're able to label what it is that they're feeling.
Katie Schulte: I've been a teacher for the last six years. So working with the ages that I've worked with. For a lot of students, it is more apparent when they're struggling, especially at that age, it's, I guess more out in the open for you to notice someone might be acting differently. So I always try to baseline, build those relationships. So students feel comfortable telling me, "I'm mad," or "I'm upset." Once you have that relationship built, it's a lot easier for them to open up to you on how they're feeling. And then hopefully, as the year progresses, be comfortable expressing what they need from me.
I think there's actually less obstacles personally, that could be just my view of it, because I love it here. But I think when you have more relationships, local, you see all the familiar faces, I see students anywhere I go. And then I think that it's easier because you have those relationships, like "oh, I saw my teacher at Walmart." You get to make that connection of, "Oh, hi, I was your child's teacher a year ago," or this year or five years ago.
Working with the younger students, I think my goal is more for them to realize what emotion they're having. So I am sad, or I am frustrated or I am angry about whatever it is. That's okay. I'm not going to talk you out of being frustrated or sad or angry. But I'm going to tell you, you know, these are the things we can do. And then to normalize that, like it's normal to have emotions. Everyone should have emotions, and that's fine and you can be sad and that's okay. And then we're going to work through it and then we're going to be happy and have a great rest of the day and not like we're having a rough moment. We don't have to have a rough day.