When Middle School students talk about one of their favorite places on campus, one tends to think of The School Store, or probably the cafeteria. You might be surprised to hear then that one of the most comfortable places on campus is the office of Dr. Andrea Kurtz, Middle School Psychologist.
"Students come in everyday to play with the toys I keep in the office, and they just start talking," stated Kurtz. "The office toys are a good opener. Kids are comfortable, they plop down on the couch, sometimes five at a time, and they open up about whatever is on their mind."
And as most of us know, there is A LOT on the mind of a Middle School student. With counseling in general being more accessible for people these days, students have been more willing to speak with Kurtz, especially when the place they can find her is so easy to well, find.
"When the plans were being put together for the new buildings, it was important to all involved that the counseling areas in Middle and Upper School were in a very convenient place (Middle School counseling office is in the main hallway across from the Middle School Office)," Kurtz said. "Especially now that students see me in the hallways, the cafeteria, teaching health and wellness classes, etc., they feel more comfortable coming in and discussing what's on their mind."
Kurtz reports that one of the main topics she discusses with students are social issues, and many times, in groups. One of her most important jobs at GA is to help students resolve conflicts, and those conflicts involve both boys and girls. While girls are more willing to come in on their own and talk it through, many boys also seek counseling for peer-related issues.
"Helping students navigate the changing landscapes of their friendships is one of the biggest topics I speak with them about," Kurtz said. "I try to teach them communication skills so they can talk with each other in a more effective way. Many times I will meet separately with students who are having problems with each other and then we can get together and have a good dialogue – with both boys and girls. They are not always best friends again, but I hope to get them to a place where they are more comfortable with each other."
The majority of Middle School students have strong empathy toward one another, and are not afraid to speak up when they see a peer who is in distress, or even one that is causing that distress. Sometimes students are worried when they see a friend have eating issues, or someone is cutting, or talking about suicide. When wellness issues like these are taught in a group setting like Middle School Health and Wellness classes, it is easier to come forward because they know where to find help.
"It is impressive how mature our kids are in that regard," Kurtz commended. "I have tried to make sure that students know that the sources are confidential. It is nice to see that students are willing to put their classmate or friend's best interest first."
Kurtz says the fun part of the job is that she literally never knows what the next day is going to hold.
"Middle School is such an exciting place, and this is truly my dream job," Kurtz said. "Yes, there have been some sad situations, but it is rewarding when I can see in a kid or in a parent when I have really made a difference and I have helped them. Listening is a big part of this job. I like when I can see that I have helped get them through something difficult."
Because we are in the age of the "helicopter parent," Kurtz feels it is more important than ever that parents keep a calm head and try to step back and listen in order to not get caught up in whatever their child is upset over at any given moment.
"Pause," said Kurtz. "Parents should be there as a sounding board. Giving children all of the answers, or making all of their decisions for them about friends, or grades, or problems with a teacher doesn't usually help. Kids need to figure it out on their own, with some guidance of course. Fixing the issue immediately doesn't always help students learn for that time or the next time in those situations.
"There are a lot of kids who worry about being perfect, which comes from social and societal pressure," continued Kurtz. "Sometimes it comes from parents, but more and more kids put pressure on themselves. I see a tremendous increase in anxiety lately. The stakes are even higher with social media."
One of the ways Kurtz tries to keep everyone calm is by preaching that they should try to enjoy being more in the moment. Mindfulness meditation is a passion of hers and she teaches Middle School students how to practice mindfulness to relieve stress, improve focus, and manage their emotions.
"Students, and parents, should try and enjoy the ride," Kurtz said. "It's hard because children don't inherently do that. Finding daily moments to stop, pause, and breathe should be more of a goal for everyone. Relationships can truly be enhanced by people being more present."