April 2020

In This Issue:


Living through a Future Chapter in a History Book

Stacy Eslick, WSCA Executive Director

Right now, we are living through the chapter of a future history book. None of us have any historical experience with a global pandemic that is shuttering schools, businesses and isolating people in their homes. We are all struggling with not only the loss of our established school communities but also the impact all of this has on our own personal lives. For most of us, we didn’t sign up to provide counseling services remotely and our students and families did not register for full time virtual or distance learning. Knowing all this, give yourself permission to just do the best you can do right now. Reflect on the stages of grief and loss and allow yourself to go through the full range of emotions with the loss of what you had planned for this spring.

One of the biggest challenges when I started working remotely from home as the Executive Director of WSCA was the loss of being in a school building. At the time I didn’t realize how much I would miss the sense of community, routines and daily contact with educators. Over the past five years I am grateful for the many partnerships, collaboration opportunities and opportunities to meet in coffee shops with amazing counselors and stakeholders from across the United States. All that being said, I still miss the community of schools. For those of you that have participated in trainings with me, you feed my soul sharing your stories of your students, administrators and teaching staff. Through you, we keep the connection to schools and counselor experiences.

WSCA has an amazingly talented team of school counselor leaders that represent your voice. We continue to lean in and listen to what are the needs of counselors and how do we as an association best provide support. Even though we cannot physically be in the same space together, we are doing everything we can to create opportunities to build virtual communities. Please continue to join us and share your stories. You are not alone in navigating these challenging circumstances.

Take gentle care,

Megan Williams, WSCA Board Member

Rufus King International High School, Milwaukee

We are currently living during a strange time. The once dictating structures of time, schedule, and task which up until now have ruled from the “throne” our lives have been overthrown. We are now all safer at home. What we have learned about the Covid 19 virus (Coronavirus) so far is that there are those who contract the virus and display symptoms as time passes i.e. coughing, fever, shortness of breath, and there are those who will contract the virus and display no symptoms at all. With the threat of contracting Covid 19 looming, and the unpredictability of its onset, we have been called to wear masks to protect ourselves and others. 

This scenario plays out similarly with regard to the social/emotional experience of and reaction to this current state of affairs. Some of us will be unaffected by our new surroundings (or lack thereof), creating schedules as though nothing has changed and tackling tasks as though everyday is just another day. Some of us may experience our body writhing, screaming, crying and fighting on the inside while outwardly presenting as though today is just another day, and some will outwardly display the aforementioned feelings of discomfort and seek help to recover from their “symptoms”. 

As counselors (and as human beings), it is important to remember to put on our “mental health masks” to protect ourselves and others. It seems appropriate that we might recall that old airplane adage (remember airplanes?) requiring that we put on our masks before we help others. Putting on our mental health masks, or being mindful, present, and compassionate in our interactions with others and with ourselves is critical. We must first take time for ourselves to process what we are feeling and seek support if necessary. When we do reach out to our students, staff, or any other stakeholders, we must keep in mind that all though many of us are attempting to conduct business as usual, there are many who are having a difficult time. 

I recently watched a video a teen posted on Facebook. In the video the teen was visibly distraught while describing the amount of work that was being assigned to him by his teachers, the difficulty he was having keeping up with the work, and his struggle to master concepts without the help of his teachers. This student was in tears and it was clear that he was overwhelmed by these expectations. After shedding a tear in solidarity, I began to think about the implications this student’s video had on my practice. While we may be able to correspond with our students and/or our parents via email, phone, etc., are we really getting the full picture of what students/parents may be experiencing? Since we know that not everyone is comfortable with sharing what they are feeling inside, what can be done to support everyone including those who are less vocal about their discomfort? What plan needs to be put in place to support students when they return and have to readjust to “normal life”?

While I cannot answer these questions for all of you or for your school, a logical place to start would be to consider creating an action plan to proactively address the needs of the students and staff once you all return to your building. Some components of your action plan might include things like information (articles, videos, etc.), support groups, a community resources pamphlet, weekly mindfulness activities, or any other resources you come across that you find helpful to address the needs of your school. Before you begin to work on that plan, please take some time to take care of yourself! I’ve included some links below to help you get started.

For you: https://www.mindful.org/meditation/mindfulness-getting-started/

WSCA Covid 19 Resource Page: /covid-19-resources/

ASCA Covid 19 response resources: https://www.schoolcounselor.org/school-counselors/professional-development/learn-more/coronavirus-resources

National Alliance on Mental Health: https://www.nami.org/covid-19

Take care, stay home, and wash your hands!


Teens and Trauma-A Need For Understanding

Jeff Vande Hey, School Counselor
Brillion High School
WSCA 2020 Presenter

Mental health awareness and education has gained a lot of traction in education circles in recent years-and for good reason. Reported mental health challenges for children and adolescents are up across the board. At a recent counselor’s meeting, one of my colleagues mentioned the Youth Risk Behavior Study, noting that at her school, students reporting significant levels of anxiety were very high. Surprisingly high. That comment was met with a chorus of “Our school too!” from around the table. Those comments, and the statistics that prompted them, certainly validate the increased attention that is being given to mental health.

One topic in mental health that deserves special attention, and I would argue increased understanding, is the topic of teens and trauma. However, before we can have a meaningful discussion of any mental health condition, we need to make sure we have a working definition of the condition we are addressing. Mental health terms are often broadly defined, so much so that they lose their sense of specific meaning. For instance, the word anxiety casts a very broad net. One adult, when hearing the word anxiety, will mention that his son has anxiety in that the son gets very nervous before his basketball games. Another adult will reference a student in the school who is visibly shaking all the time and has a hard time even responding with a simple sentence when spoken to. Those, my friends, are very different things. For those reasons, I will begin my discussion of trauma by explaining exactly what I mean when I use the term.

Trauma also means different things to different people. I have been to three distinct training sessions on adolescent mental health this year and each mentioned trauma somewhere in the course of a 100 slide PowerPoint presentation. To the attendees, this often created a takeaway that everything in the presentation connected to the word trauma. That net is too large. Conversely, the American Psychological Association rebuffed the 21 foremost experts in the field in their efforts to include “developmental trauma” in the DSM. Bessel Van der kolk, president of the Trauma Research Foundation, called this a tragic exclusion. Their net, according to most experts, is too small.

Then what exactly is trauma? Trauma, in the psychological sense, refers to an overwhelmingly painful memory that is so strong, it actually becomes embedded in the physiology of the traumatized individual. In addition, the corresponding emotional charge stays connected to the memory so when the memory comes up, the traumatized person experiences the memory just as if the event were actually happening. This is beyond choice; the memory is physically embedded in the physiology of the person.

When trauma emerges, a cascade of challenges often follows. The first thing to note is that traumatic memories are stored in the fight, flight or freeze section of the brain, the section associated with the perception of imminent fear and danger. It shuts off the prefrontal cortex, which is the executive function section of the brain, in charge of processing and analyzing incoming information. From a physiological standpoint, a traumatic memory activates the sympathetic nervous system, putting the parasympathetic nervous system at bay and leaving the person in a heightened “fight or flight” mode. 

Importantly, the system that is put on the shelf during this time includes the vagus nerve, a very important nerve for proper body functioning. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the body and among other functions, it significantly innervates the heart, lungs, and digestive system. The vagus nerve is responsible for managing the complex processes of the digestive tract and signaling the function of the stomach muscles to function properly. That is why many of our students with fight, flight, freeze conditions report stomach problems. These students, while having a poorly functioning stomach, often do not have a condition carrying a medical label. Thus, they are seen as “fakers” or hypochondriacs by nurses and secretaries and often wear out their welcome in those areas. Over time, these students who spend abnormal amounts of time in fight or flight sometimes do develop full-fledged diagnosable conditions. Ironically, this often results in relief for the trauma victim as he or she now feels she can get some help and the health issues are now legitimized.

Going back to the brain, and specifically the fight-flight-freeze section of the brain, it is fair to note that we all spend time in fight, flight or freeze. The difference, with traumatized individuals, is that the becomes the default state network. Scans on traumatized individuals have shown that when they were instructed to sit and think of absolutely nothing, the region of the brain associated with fear and danger lit up while the prefrontal cortex was dormant. That means these individuals are living in fight or flight even when they are the brain is idle. This finding has two key implications. First, there is a continuous toll that is being taken not only on the brain but on the nervous system and body as well. Secondly, healing is likely to be a multifaceted, arduous process.

As we close, it is fair to ask, how do we know someone has trauma and what do we do about it. The truth is there is not an easy answer to the first question. We do know that the National Center for PTSD estimates that 2.6% of girls and 1% of boys have trauma. That means in a building of 400 high school students, approximately 14-15 students have trauma. Since we do not have scanners in our counselor’s offices, we have to rely on intuition and more imprecise tools. As pointers, I look for students who have shown a significant change in general happiness in the last five years and significant disruption in sleep, including frequent bad dreams and nightmares.

As far as what we do about it, there are a few answers. First, anything connected to mindfulness can be helpful as it reconnects the young person with the executive function section of the brain. This intervention as a standalone does require a great deal of patience as healing is unlikely to be quick. Secondly, there are trauma-based interventions to recommend such as NET, Brainspotting or EMDR therapy. These interventions work directly with the physiology of the individual. Finally, be a person who has his or her eyes open and antenna up with regard to troubled students and possible trauma. I can almost promise you that with your eyes open and antenna up, you will notice more individuals, who may indeed have trauma. This increased awareness, coupled with the heart that comes with being in this field will, at the very least, lead to more empathic and compassionate communications. That is a good place to start.

Children’s Wisconsin

Healthy Kids Learn More

Children’s Wisconsin offers mental and emotional health programming at no cost to Wisconsin schools

Children’s Wisconsin knows that an important part of overall health is mental and emotional wellbeing, and now offers programs and resources to address these needs in new and innovative ways. Several  e-learning resources for schools that address social and emotional health are: Healthy Minds for mental and emotional health , Act Now! bullying prevention and Take 5ive guided video exercises for mindfulness.

Healthy Minds 4th Grade now available!

Healthy Minds 4th Grade, the second in a planned continuum of mental and emotional health e-learning courses for K-8 students, became available on April 1 and can be used throughout the rest of the school year. 

Healthy Minds provides an engaging look at what makes a healthy mind and introduces the skills needed to help students lead healthy lives. Healthy Minds 3rd Grade launched in fall.

Healthy Minds aligns with the ASCA Mindsets & Behaviors for Student Success and DPI’s SEL competencies. The courses address: recognizing feelings and emotions and learning how to deal with them; empathy and compassion; stress; healthy relationships; common mental health disorders and concerns; and how to get help when needed.

Act Now! Bullying Prevention – Staff training grants available for 2020-2021

Children’s Wisconsin, in collaboration with DPI, will again be awarding$1,500 grants to 25 Wisconsin schools to deliver Act Now! Staff Training for the 2020-2021 school year. The focus of these grants is to support schools’ efforts to participate in both the staff training and student bullying prevention courses to reduce bullying and improve school climate. Schools can apply for a grant in August 2020.

Act Now! is a continuum of bullying prevention e-learning courses designed for K-8 students, school staff and parents and was developed in collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Act Now! addresses all types of bullying, including cyberbullying and sexual harassment at the middle school level. The program empowers bystanders to stand up to bullying and improve overall school climate. A staff training program is available and recommended for optimal success in reducing bullying.  Parents Act Now! an interactive parent education website is also available. Coming this fall: Cyberbullying – Middle School and Cyberbullying – High School are new mini courses that will focus on what cyberbullying is, the impact it can have on everyone involved, and the skills needed to help prevent it, and even stop it when it does happen.

Are you looking for free mindfulness resources for your school?  Take 5ive mindfulness exercises for students in grades K-12, are a series of guided practice videos that can be integrated into the school day to help improve focus and attention, decrease stress and anxiety, increase feelings of kindness, and increase the ability to manage emotions.Take 5ive Mindfulness

Find more information atHealthykidslearnmore.com

We enjoyed seeing and talking to many of you at the WSCA conference in February in Madison. Please reach out to us if you have any questions or would like to enroll in our mental and emotional health resources. We’re here to support you as you integrate them into your counseling curriculum and SEL framework.