Alone in the Crowd: Q&A with junior Jordan Barker and director of counseling Rachel Cole


Director of Counseling Rachel Cole

Will you tell me a little bit about the Culture of Care week?

We’re still planning, and fine-tuning some things, but we are planning a kindness matters activity for all staff and students. Our main purpose for the week is we want to bring some awareness to mental health. We want to acknowledge that we need to be able to talk about it and that you’re not alone if you’re going through some mental health issues. WE want everyone—parents, students, staff—to have a good understanding of resources that are available in house for our school but also that we support and resource out out of the building, so they feel comfortable knowing there is support to go to, and then the last main goal is we just want our students and staff as well to know we care here about each other and we’re gonna try to really be intentional about that that week.

We’re gonna do a kindness matters challenge; we’re going to have a parent awareness night with some different professional community organizations to come in, one, to give exposure of where you might want to go to, but two, to answer questions, we’ve prescripted some, not completely done with that, and we’re gonna take text questions into them from the audience. We’re gonna have another activity during lunch on Wednesday that’s kind of a (can’t remember the name, something like You Sit, I Listen), but it’s showing different staff members and students to come up and we just want to know. You can talk about anything you want to. We are here to listen to you, and we’re gonna have on that Friday, we’re gonna have some stations set up for coping skills. We don’t have all those finalized, so I don’t want you to report everything yet. We’re trying to get some therapy dogs in here on Monday and Friday, but the first organization we reached out to couldn’t do that one, but I’ve got two more, so I’m hoping, because we really want them. We’re also working with the health department, teachers and students, our mental health student club is gonna be active. We’ve reached out to our staff. We have lots of people, so we’re still organizing, and there’s a few more fun activities I haven’t mentioned, but I just want to get them fine-tuned before I put them out there.

What is the steering committee?

We’re also putting together a mental health awareness steering committee that is made up of our social workers, staff, parents, and community, organizations, students, that we’re developing a three-year plan that is really kind of for the next three years to build our culture of care here and be intentional and include all these stakeholders in mental health and it’s going to encompass planning for a year, and we want to make sure that we’re recognizing, so we’re gonna have a parent subgroup, a student subgroup and a staff subgroup because we want to make sure we’re meeting everyone’s needs and making sure that we’re checking in and addressing each subgroup, so that’s still really early in the process. I just sent the PTO president the Google Doc to have parents sign up. We sent one out last week to staff. I haven’t looked at it in a couple days, but we had 42 people on that, so it’s exciting, and we just want to get a group together and start working on it to make a three-year plan.

Why are you pushing for mental health awareness?

For me to talk to them I’m like ‘Can I just talk to them for two minutes?” We have to plan so far in advance to block it off. I used to, could just go, “Hey, when you’re done, come in here,” and I can’t do that anymore. So we’re just seeing an increase in students showing some more anxiety and wanting some support there. WE also have had parents reach out and say “I don’t expect them to make all A’s, but they are crying,” so even when I went to the PTO last semester, we had some of the parents say, “Can we ask you for how do we talk to our students? What should we be telling them? Can we have some tools?” so that’s why we decided to set up this week, the mental health week, this semester because we had all this tabled for next year, like we’re going to work on all of this. And we decided we needed to do something sooner, so we went ahead and planned the mental health awareness week for February, but we still went and kept our idea of starting the committee and actually making an initiative for the next start-up of three years, but we’re going to continue that.

How does being a counselor affect this week?

For this year, our department is kind of doing the leg work behind the planning, making the phone calls, doing those type of thing, but we really are planning this for everyone and the staff wide is going to support it. So we don’t want it to be viewed that the counseling department is doing mental health awareness week because really it’s Carmel High School. Our students are doing it. Our staff is doing it. For this year, we’re doing some of the organizing and the phone calls and legwork of it, but after this year that’s where that initiative is coming in, and we want to have everybody be a part of this and we really want to grow it to, and I think we will, to the community, so we’ve already had some ideas from some teachers for some parks and different things, but it’s freezing right now, and we want to do it now, but we’ve got some exciting ideas on the table coming up for next year. We’re just kind of doing the legwork to get it kicked off for this year, but we really view it as Carmel High School administration; all departments are putting this week on.

As a counselor, what kinds of mental health issues do you see?

We see a range of things. Anxiety is by far the highest. We have some students that deal with some depression; we have anxiety; we just have regular stress; we have self-image concerns students have. We have the gamut of mental health issues, and across the board, I would even say we do a lot with helping students choose better coping skills than how they’re choosing to cope with their anxiety or stress.

What services does counseling currently offer?

That’s what we’re really trying to hit that week. Depending on what it is, usually most concerns start with a counselor. Either a teacher shares it, a parent shares it with us, or the student, or a friend. That has been awesome: that friends have come and said, “Would you see, don’t tell them,” or they do the anonymous alert, which I like too. They’ll send that in, then depending on what’s going on with that student, it may be that they work with a counselor for a while through whatever it is. If they need to see them a little bit more often than what a counselor is, then we use one of our social workers, and it may be that our social workers meet with them one-on-one. It may be that they plug them into one of our groups that we have going for support. It may be that they recognize, “Hey, I actually think they need to go to an outside counselor on a consistent basis,” and then we typically will get permission to work with that counselor to communicate with them as well, but they may get referred, that they need that. We also have an Aspire counselor that some of our students; he’s got an office that instead of having to check-out of school and go for an appointment and come back, he actually has an office here, and our students can come during class period, see that outside counselor and then go back. Or it may be that we look at a more intense program, and it might be that they go to the stress center. It may be that that could be St. Vincent’s or which one the parent wants, but it may be that we refer them to go to the stress center and have an evaluation and they have—I call them half-day; they’re really 1:30 that they leave a couple days a week for support. It’s usually a four or five-week program, and then we transition them back. We also have other organizations we work with, depending on what it is: Brooke’s Place is a lot with grief, if we’ve had a family loss. We have different community resources; it just kind of depends what’s going on with that student. We have a pretty big packet that we provide parents depending on what the issue is, if it was an eating disorder, if it was whatever, that we can provide for them as well and kind of give some guidance.

Do you have any tips for students looking for mental health services?

Let their counselor know. Let their counselor know, and we because it’s not just that we have one either, they have choices, and it’s not a checklist if you’re this, you do this, and we use some different tools to support students, and that’s one thing I think our social workers and counselors do a great job with. If you do need some strategies for coping skills, just because you feel like you’re going to have a panic attack, or you just get whatever, they use a variety of different supports and work with that student because it’s not the same for each one. Some are similar, but they try to find something that actually works for that student, and then we do check-ins, and we’re seeing a lot of good results, getting a lot of positive feedback, even from some students who thought, “I do not want to talk about this with people,” and then they’ll go, “Why are you cancelling today?” And I’m like, “That’s the one who said he didn’t want to go.” So we’re seeing a lot of good things happen. We just want to get more information out so more people are aware that we do have resources.


Apurva Manas
Junior Jordan Barker

Can you tell me a little more about your ADD?

I have ADD, and I was diagnosed in 2nd grade, and basically it just makes it a little harder to focus for me, so I’ve been on medication for a really long time, and it’s sort of a thing where it’s harder to focus and you’re just a bit more distracted, and that’s just kind of what I live with.

How were you able to get help?

Well there are certain programs that the school has to make having ADD easier, so when you have ADD or ADHD, you can have a 504 plan at the school which basically is just different accommodations that the school offers. So I have Tuesday on task and preferential seating, which means that if I’m particularly distracted, then my teacher just knows that they have to be like “Hey, do your work.” Also, I can be seated more towards the front of the room, so that I’m less likely to be distracted.

Do you feel like it was a successful process?

Yeah, I mean, I think it’s pretty helpful. I think it’s good that it’s specific to every single student, so people who need more help can get more help, and people who don’t need as much help don’t get unnecessary things. So yeah, I think it’s a pretty good system.

How were you able to get medication to begin with?

My medication is prescribed through my doctor, so I will go in, and I think when I was a little kid I saw a psychiatrist or something like that, a psychologist to get diagnosed, and then I basically just talked to my doctor about how distracted I’ve been feeling, how it’s been working, and then also what the medication that I’m on, kind of how it affects me because a lot of ADD medications are appetite suppressants, which means that they make you a lot less hungry, so then I don’t eat a lot, which was kind of a problem when I was younger, so I talk to my doctor and then they’ll give me a prescription for whatever is affordable and whatever she thinks will work the best, and then I’ll usually be on it for about a year, maybe longer, and then they’ll switch it up just so that it’s the best one for the time.

Do you know around what age you started taking medication?

I believe I was in around 2nd grade when I started taking the medication because around then it started to get really noticeable that I was having trouble focusing on schoolwork, and so we figured that the medication would probably be a good thing to start.

Is this also when they started helping you at school in accommodating your ADD?

I think so. I wasn’t very involved with the process at a younger age, but I do remember getting special fidgets, and I think I had a special chair for a while because I would fidget around and was kicking stuff, but I didn’t really start being active until around freshman year when I was sitting in on the meetings, but everyone was always asking me what I needed so that they could accommodate me personally the best.

What advice would you give to people who also suffer from these non-physical conditions?

Just making sure that you just have an open and verbal dialogue with the authorities in your life whether it’s your parents or someone else and then also your doctor and your school because there are tons of accommodations that they can give you just depending on what you have, and so it’s just really important to make sure that there’s that open line of communication so that you can just get the best experience possible because it definitely gets a lot easier when you have people helping you out.