Sunridge Middle School Counselors Put Students First
Navigating a global pandemic is difficult. Navigating middle school is difficult. Try doing both at once. Some days, it’s just not easy.
For those days, Sunridge Middle School students have three amazing adults to support them at school – Rick Scheibner, Brandy Dougherty, and Matt Rediger. On a recent Wednesday in the Counseling Office, these three counselors were busy connecting with students and talking about the resources and tools they are using to make a difference.
Dougherty is the counselor for this year’s seventh graders. All the counselors follow the class as they progress through SMS. For example, last year, her students were 6th graders, this year seventh-graders, and next school year eighth graders. Dougherty is excited about a new program SMS adopted in November called B.I.O.N.I.C. (Believe It Or Not I Care), which seeks to help students and/or staff members dealing with challenging life issues. The national program’s mission “creates more caring schools, organizations, and communities that support, encourage, and connect those facing challenging times” (https://www.bionicteam.org/).
The concept of B.I.O.N.I.C. is for fellow students in the school to be trained to serve on different teams and to support their peers. The New Student Team connects new students with ambassadors to help transition new students for the first few days they are at Sunridge. The Loss Team reaches out to students who have a significant family member who has passed away. The Extended Illness Team and the Hospitalization Team support students who have serious illnesses or surgeries. The Bully Prevention Team implements school-wide practices to prevent and reduce bullying behaviors.
Dougherty said it has been great to have students join teams and help others. “B.I.O.N.I.C. is a great leadership opportunity and a great fit for naturally caring students who embrace the idea of connection and support for fellow students,” Dougherty said.
Aly, an eighth-grader at SMS, is a B.I.O.N.I.C. participant and team leader who said she joined because she likes helping people. “I like how our team all works together and how our different personalities can do our best together,” Aly said.
Rick Scheibner works with the current sixth grade class. He points out that these students have not been together for an entire school year since before they were fourth-graders. Another SMS program called Character Strong is a tool counselors use school-wide. During third period Advisory once a week, all SMS teachers present a Character Strong lesson to their students. Topics include building community, building and applying listening skills, understanding emotions, and conflict resolution. While some of the struggles students are experiencing right now may be exacerbated by the long span of online learning and adjusting last fall to in-person school, Scheibner said much of what he discusses with students are normal stages of development — changing friendships, maturing at different rates and emotional ups and downs. “Together with students, we normalize the fact that they are experiencing different emotions from last year to this year and work on perseverance and tenacity,” he said.
The eighth-grade class counselor is Matt Rediger, who says students he works with are doing pretty well and are very happy to be with peers and friends in person at school. Despite increased anxiety for some students last fall, students are just really thankful not to be in distance learning. Rediger said he appreciates the B.I.O.N.I.C. and Character Strong programs because they focus on being proactive about social-emotional health and improving the overall school climate at SMS. “Being more intentional and less reactive and involving students in the work of creating positive school culture is really exciting,” Rediger said.