The following interviews revolve around the issue of mental health within the RM community.
Interview with Ms. Emily Levine, RM’s school psychologist
Could you briefly describe what your job position entails?
I am here to help students thrive and succeed in the face of various challenges! More specifically, school psychologists help support social-emotional learning by providing direct support and interventions to students. We help parents and students understand their learning and mental health needs, and help staff members to better understand the diverse population that they work with. School psychologists also assist with the special education process and conduct psychological assessments. I am part of the school team that monitors interventions for students’ academics and behaviors. Overall, my job is to support all students in their ability to learn.
In what ways could an RM student/staff member reach you?
The easiest way to reach me is to stop by the counseling office any time I’m in. My scheduled days at RM are Tuesday and Wednesday, but I tend to be here more often, so you can always drop by the counseling office to see if I’m there. You can also leave a message with your counselor or Ms. Stamets, and they will notify me. If I’m not in, the counselors have my number and can reach me if need be. You can also reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are not directly available for assistance, who can students turn to?
All of the counseling staff here are trained to address mental health concerns and are definitely a great resource. There are various other resources that are available, but I recommend speaking to a member of the counseling team first, and they can steer you in the right direction.
What do you hope RM students know about you?
I’m like the cool uncle (or in my case, aunt) who comes around a couple times a week, and you can always talk to about anything. I earned my Master’s and Specialist’s degree from Florida State University and am a loyal Seminole fan. I am here as a person that will support you in whatever may be happening. I want each and every one here to succeed in your own way and if anything is hindering your success, I am here to help! I understand that problems happen from time to time, difficult decisions need to be made, and mental health issues are real!
Interview with Ms. Antoinette Phillips, head of the counseling department
In what way could an RM student/staff member reach you?
Staff and students can reach out to counselors in person, email or by phone. Students sign in upon entry into the counseling office. It is a new feature this year! This helps our department keep track of our student contact. It is also beneficial because as soon as the student signs in, an automatic email is generated to the counselor. This is really helpful if a counselor is meeting with another student, parent, attending a meeting or is in training in/out of the building.
If counselors aren’t available, how can students receive the help they need?
Students stop by all the time. If their counselor is not available due to serving another student or parent, attending a meeting on behalf of a student, is in training in or outside of the building, we have capable counselors that are willing to serve other students who are not assigned to them. Mental health concerns can be addressed by any counselor within the counseling department.
Additionally, we have other members of the school services team who are also trained to assist students experiencing mental health impact. These team members include our school psychologist, Ms. Emily Levine, and our Pupil Personnel Worker Mr. Dave Earley. Both have received training and are well equipped to support students in crisis or address the concerns of students referred by their peers.
What do you hope RM students know about counselors?
Counselors juggle many tasks but our priority is to address students’ academic, personal, social emotional, and college/career needs. We provide individual, group, and classroom guidance in addressing these areas. We are fortunate with the magnitude of our school size to have 11 counselors including an ESOL counselor available to support students in these areas.
We have to work with teachers to balance our need to visit classes to share our counseling services with their need to address academic curriculum timelines to prepare students for a variety of assessments. Further, we coordinate and assist the test proctoring of students who have accommodations on the PSAT, AP, IB, and PARCC assessments. When applicable, we assist students and parents in submitting formal testing accommodations from these test companies.
What sorts of services and help would RM as a school be able to provide to a student in need?
As for resources, we encourage students to use the wealth of academic supports when students need assistance with improving their success (homework club, NHS lunch time tutor support, writing center, etc.). Our College and Career Coordinator, Ms. Hull has provided one-one assistance for students needing help with college, military applications, registrations for various assessments, and connecting students with scholarships, and internship opportunities.
We refer students for outside support if they are seeking therapeutic interventions. Although we can provide brief counseling support, we are not licensed therapists. Therefore, we make many recommendations to students and families who do not have access to a personal therapist. We have a partnership with the City of Rockville Therapist who is able to meet with students on a 8-10 week basis. Currently she has a waitlist, but we can also share referrals to other agencies in the community for parents and students.
Additionally, we have coordinated support to students and their families who have become impacted by a unforeseen hardships (loss of income, housing, house fire, loss of basic needs (clothes, food, etc.). Our PPW, Mr. Earley has connected countless families with community agencies that can provide support in the areas. When a student is in crisis and has communicated the desire to hurt themselves or others, we have necessary protocols that we must follow and make the necessary referrals accordingly. Another way we assist students is by working with teachers and parents to determine what types of supports are needed for the student to be successful. Counselors assist students in navigating the college process, family connection accounts and completing the required tasks within Naviance. Lastly, we work with our school staff to inform and educate about the impact of stress, anxiety and depression has on learning.
We newly facilitated a number of Parent Coffees to invite parents to learn more about the new Maryland mandates for students to demonstrate college and career readiness, dual enrollment at MC for juniors and seniors, financial aid night and an upcoming junior night. We created a student survey to gather input on courses they would like to see considered and received great feedback for the leadership team to consider. Next month we will be meeting with juniors to register for one of the required college readiness assessments: SAT, ACT or Accuplacer. We will host the Accuplacer tests in both January and April.
How is the counseling department and the school administration reacting to the recent attention directed towards mental health?
The counseling department is working to develop an increased level of support to enable students to participate in a lunch time forum supervised by a team of counselors. We began this forum informally this week beginning Monday, December 11th. Students and teachers stopped by during lunch to share their experiences or that of their peers regarding some of the red flags they observed. A great discussion was had about teenage depression and anxiety and the impact social media has had to impact student feelings and emotions. Our IB coordinator, Mrs. Shay led a breakfast tea last Friday, December 8th that offered similar support as well. One of our counselors attended the breakfast to hear what students had to say.
My understanding is there are a group of students working to mobilize #ummtr to increase awareness of the red flags people need to look for in their friends. Their mobilization has started with wristbands and posters that they have been sharing with students and staff.
I was informed that the SGA is hoping to complete a few projects to increase awareness about mental health awareness too. They may work with our department to mobilize this effort.
Having been a counselor for more than 15 years, I am energized that so many articulate students are aware of the impact mental health has on one’s overall well being. In some cultures, mental health is not acknowledged and seeking therapeutic support is sometimes shunned. It would be great to see more an more across cultural lines move towards seek assistance with mental health as one would when physically ill.
Mr. Monteleone used the phrase “blanket flash pass” to communicate to staff that if as student needs to seek out their counselor for mental health support to enable them the opportunity to do so.
Students have communicated that they are often apprehensive to seek support during their class periods for fear of missing out on classroom tasks or they have conveyed that they have been discouraged due to the pressing nature of the academic demands of the day. Some students will see their counselor at lunch, before/after school to minimize the classroom impact when they can.
We never want students to feel their access has been blocked but we also recognize that the more time a student is out of class the more anxious they may become as a result of missing class assignments. Nonetheless, we realize that when a student is overwhelmed with a mental health condition it can be difficult to engage in the learning process.
Interview with sophomore Jonathan Mortman, president of the Teen Depression Awareness Campaign (T-DAC)
Could you talk briefly about your organization and what you hope to accomplish?
The Teen Depression Awareness Campaign (T-DAC) is simply a group of students looking to make a difference. We want to make a difference in our community in terms of mental health. Most of us have our own experience with depression or anxiety or other issues, and we simply wanted to make a change in our community. We are trying to raise awareness of these issues because mental health issues, depression specifically, is a much bigger problem than accounted for. We conceived the idea after the two teens who took their own lives from depression. I texted my close friend Rachel Herman, who is now VP, about the issues. We decided that it’s time to do something, because nothing is being changed, meaning no progress is being made. As we say, it’s time to stop being reactive, and start being proactive.
How can students get involved?
Students can get involved in many ways. Currently, the biggest thing to do right now is to promote several things. Our email and Instagram page (where we post a lot) are always open as outlets for people and sources of information. Promoting those, along with our website, is one of the most helpful things students can do right now. We need our reach to expand so we can have more of an impact. In addition to that, in the unfortunate circumstance that a situation is an emergency or a crisis, we want everyone to know both the suicide hotline and the crisis textline (“HOME” or “HELLO” to 741741). Spreading all of these things will help us tremendously; an impact will be much stronger if we can reach more people.
What do you think the school administration can do to ensure better resolutions to mental health problems?
The most beneficial thing that the school administration could do is become more aware and open to resolving these issues. I know a lot of people, myself included, wouldn’t feel comfortable about talking to anyone in administration if I needed an adult to talk to. Having them become more friendly towards the idea of helping students would be huge. I understand there are some staff who are great to students and students feel that they can go to, but the ideal situation is that every student feels they can go to any adult. We understand that isn’t realistic, but it’s definitely something to at least strive towards.
From your vantage point, could you describe the school environment’s impact on student stress levels?
Students are definitely constantly stressed; it’s apparent on a daily basis. School is absolutely a large factor, but there are also a lot of outside factors as well. However, having the school give us a little more breathing room or stressing us less, whatever that may mean in specifics, would be tremendous towards student health. There are always other factors, but having school being one of the larger stressors, if the school system could actually work with us, we could definitely be a healthier group of students.