UNION, NJ – The social/emotional health of Union's student body, and how to best address their needs, was a topic of discussion at this week’s school board meeting.

“Both students and families need assistance, support and the feeling of being connected,” said Nicole Ahern, Supervisor of Counseling.  She said when virtual learning began, counselors, administration, and the district’s central office discussed how to offer counseling services “in a whole new way”.

“We’ve been able to not only provide resources, but adapt to this new format, so that our students and our families can continue to be connected to their schools even if it is at home,” Ahern said. 

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Ahern said students at all levels and their parents can make appointments with their  school counselors for any needs that may arise.  “It is something I encourage,” she said.  “If you don’t know who your child’s school counselors are, they are on the school’s website and I encourage you to start building a relationship now.”

Using Google Meets or Zoom, students at some levels can schedule themselves for their own appointments, Ahern said.  “Even though it may look different, the overall goal of ultimate student support is the same,” she said. 

In reference to reentry plans, Ahern said the Counseling Department is re-evaluating plans of how counselors will interact with students and families in a hybrid or an in-person situation.

“Counselors are working extremely hard to stay informed of current information and disseminate that information in a way that’s best for the school and the community.”  Ahern said counselors have participated in many webinars and sessions and personal development opportunities dedicated specifically to the counseling platform in this new environment.

 “Overall, the Counseling Department serves an important role in bringing the school community together to support not only students' academic progress but also their mental wellness and their mental health.  That is something we pride ourselves on,” Ahern added.

Counselor sites and Google Classrooms are highly interactive, with links and resources allowing students to explore various and countless topics, said Ahern.  “This offers an interesting dynamic of mental health support in a variety of ways that we were not able to do with one student at a time,” she added.  Some resources include ‘Zen Dens’, mindfulness moments, virtual office hours, self-care resources, and college and career support.

At the elementary schools, Ahern said counselors have been in to see classrooms, introducing themselves to the students, “just like always.”  She said the counselors continue to build on themes for every month throughout the year. 

Ahern said the middle schools have a a built-in a student support period “that’s a nice opportunity for counselors to meet with more students.”  She said lunch periods and home rooms are being utilized so as not to impede on academic time for students who need to see a counselor.  She added that drop-in sessions have been well received at the middle and high schools.

Ahern said Union High School students have been scheduling counselor sessions themselves and attending informational sessions during lunch periods.  “High school students will access information, but they like to do it on their own time.”  She said themes for informational sessions, which students can watch live at lunch or view the video later, include SATs, college essays, vocational school material, mediation and mindfulness.

“We’re all in this together,” said Ahern.  “Contact a school counselor.  We’re our best when we’re helping each other.”