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Counselling at just the right time for schools

Three Wairarapa schools will share a counsellor as part of a government initiative. PHOTO/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

Story by Tom Taylor

Principals at three Wairarapa schools say counselling support services could not be coming at a better time, with many students battling anxiety during the pandemic.

Mauriceville School, Lakeview School, and Masterton Intermediate will share a counsellor as part of the Counselling in Schools initiative.

The support would look very different at each school, Mauriceville School principal Kim Lupo said.

“We’ve got to move away from the days of having a cookie-cutter response,” she said. “It’s quite exciting that they’re willing to work with us and negotiate and develop what it might look like in our school.”

Kim Lupo said counselling support will look different at each school. PHOTOS/FILE

At Mauriceville, a school of about 16 pupils, the counsellor would work one day a fortnight.

Lupo said the counsellor would initially spend time working with teachers to gain a better understanding of their pupils before starting to work with groups or individuals.

The three Wairarapa schools were among 141 primary, intermediate, area, and small secondary schools throughout New Zealand to benefit from the initiative.

Associate Minister of Education Jan Tinetti said the most funding came after a $31.8 million pool of funding allocated to large secondary schools in January.

“It equates to 90 additional counselling staff across the country and means 223,838 students have better access to a counsellor at school,” Tinetti said.

The initiative would invest $44 million across four years as part of a $200 million package announced last year to improve the well-being of learners and educators.

“Good mental health and well-being are essential for student success,” Tinetti said.

“Some of our tamariki, a lack of well-being is getting in the way of their attendance, engagement, and achievement.”

She said the support would help pupils better manage issues like bullying, loneliness, anxiety, and grief and was particularly important in the wake of covid-19.

Masterton Intermediate School principal Russell Thompson agreed that the pandemic was a cause of stress for pupils.

“Some of our students are not as self-confident as they might have been when I was a young fella … A lot of kids are not backing themselves to take part in things because they don’t feel that they are going to be up to scratch or as good as others.”

Thompson said it was fortunate that anxiety was one of the counsellor’s areas of expertise.

“We know that we need some support with anxiety … Having said that, if we would require support for anger management at a higher level, she’d be able to do that.”

At Lakeview School, counselling support had already begun earlier this year.

Tim Nelson said schools have been crying out for counsellors for years.

Lakeview had applied for the Ministry of Education’s [MoE] $50 million Urgent Response Fund, which aimed to support learners affected by the covid-19 lockdowns.

The school received almost $50,000 to support 87 pupils across two categories of need, defined as ‘attendance’ and ‘well-being to support attendance’.

Lakeview principal Tim Nelson said the school used this funding to organise its own counsellor.

“That funding was only a finite amount, and that counselling service was going to have to finish. But this government decided to fund counsellors in schools indefinitely.

“Because of that, a number of counsellors have been employed around New Zealand to support some schools, and we’re fortunate to be one of those schools.”

The counsellor would work at Lakeview for three days every two weeks, working with a wide range of pupils on issues like grief, anxiety, and confidence.

“It’s a really positive, good initiative. Schools have been crying out for counsellors for years, and often families have had to access services themselves and pay for them themselves. This way, it’s entirely provided by the ministry.”

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