The current counseling staff members have all been at Saint Ignatius for at least six years—some for many more than that. Three are parents of current students or young alumni and so have observed the bigger picture of the student journey firsthand. They’re credentialed and professional people with a deep love for and commitment to the students.
Before the start of freshman year, every student is assigned a school counselor, whom they can go to for questions with scheduling, learning accommodations and assistance with skills like time management, test-taking, study habits and managing stress.
Counselors check in with all students throughout the year, especially when it comes to scheduling classes, but also if a student is identified by a teacher as struggling in class, or if he is referred by a concerned friend. A series of locked boxes around school and a mobile app allow students to leave an anonymous tip if they are concerned about a peer; the counseling team reviews those every week and follows up as needed.
A November 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that mental health emergency department visits for children ages 12-17 had increased 31 percent. This year, visits to the counseling offices have risen, reflecting that trend.
“Lately we’ve had a lot of students come down talking about anxiety and depression,” says Lessick. “COVID kind of ramped that up, so we’ve been very busy meeting with students about that.”
“Mental health has always been there, even before COVID,” she adds. “There’s a lot of kids that deal with anxiety. I’ve seen that be something that’s increased since I’ve been here for 14 years. There’s a lot of pressure from the students that they put on themselves; they just get it from different directions, and I don’t know if it’s because they’re teenage boys or just teenagers in general, but it’s hard for them to talk about it. And they bottle it up a lot and, at some point, whether it’s a parent that calls us or a teacher that says, ‘Look, something’s wrong, he’s not acting like himself,’ or sometimes we’ve had students come down and say, ‘I’m worried about my friend.’ It’s really nice because the boys will look out for each other and they’ll come to us and let us know they’re worried about their friend.”
Strauss likens the role of his team in these situations to that of a safety net, making sure that a student can rebound from setbacks. They work with teachers and the staff of The Robert M. Walton ’41 Center for Learning to create accommodation plans, or meet with parents to better understand issues at home. When the situation directs it, they provide referrals to clinical psychologists or other outside counselors.
In recent years, Counseling has made strides to be more present to students beyond the scheduled meetings. An initiative called Counselors on the Quad involves a cookout and yard games outside when the weather is nice; its purpose is no more than to provide students some stress relief and give the counseling staff time to socialize with them.
Additionally, a reimagined Freshman Seminar class that debuted this year has enabled counselors to see students in the classroom setting. The new iteration of the course was redeveloped this year by Walton Center Director Emily Samek, Spanish teacher Sara Sebring and Math teacher Erin Hanna.
Previously a freshman seminar course ran through Counseling and the Walton Center while, concurrently, a senior Big Brother program operated under the direction of the National Honors Society. Finding significant overlap between the two orientation initiatives, they merged efforts for the first time during the fall semester.
“We had a faculty member and a Big Brother in each group,” Hanna says. “The faculty could give more of the instructional basis for whatever the topic was for the week, but also the Big Brother provided the student perspective on things for freshmen to help them out.”
The purpose is to make sure that as new students at a new school, freshmen have a good starter set of tools and maps to lead them on their journey.