Before the international pandemic, it was easy for students to find Broomfield High School Counselor Gina Malecha and her colleagues. They were always in the school’s counseling center.
“Usually when [students] would come in they could count on having one of us standing there,” Malecha remembered longingly. “Now, no matter how great of a job we are doing electronically, you can’t replace that for a counselor. We are missing the connection with the kids.”
While she is still on duty and available to students and parents who reach out, she misses having meetings with students and the ease of sending for a student in a classroom to check in with them about anything from graduation to their emotional state.
“I have been at the high school level in BVSD for the past 22 years. This year has been unlike any other year,” Malecha said.
Same work, but a new distance to bridge
Sure, she is still focused on the same work she’d be doing in May: ensuring seniors are ready for graduation and helping kids who are struggling.
“It is those ends of the spectrum that are taking up our time, which is really not that different from what it would be if we were in the office,” Malecha admitted.
She, however, says everything has changed. Now she spends countless hours in front of her computer screen, checking in with students by email and phone, but she doesn’t always hear back from them.
“Initially the response from the kids was really good because typically they too were concerned about losing their support people. The longer we go, however, the bigger the gap on how we hear from them,” Malecha said. “I also think there is technology shut-down with kids when they’re being bombarded by too many adults with questions. None of us get a response, so that has been tricky.”
She says that counselors, administrators and teachers have been working closely to coordinate efforts to avoid this type of overload.
Social distancing is hampering hugs
For a counselor, perhaps one of the biggest tools of the trade is a good hug. Something so simple, however, isn’t possible during this time of social distancing.
“I have a student that I’ve worked really closely with that has aged out of foster care and is living on her own,” said Malecha. “She’s a kid that I check on nearly every day. I have seen her once from about six feet away in her driveway to make sure she was okay when she got kicked out of her foster home. I normally would have hugged her, but I couldn’t do that.”
Malecha says she has also had a student whose grandmother passed away and another who was evicted from her home. She has done everything she can to support them, but it just isn’t the same without a caring embrace.
Biggest concern: the students they can’t see
Those, however, aren’t the kids that she and her team are most concerned about.
“We are losing sleep over the kids who are not in a safe situation,” Malecha said. “They have no outlet to reach out except through email in a very coded way.”
Local governmental and non profit organizations have reported significant drops in the number of child abuse and neglect reports and calls to suicide prevention hotlines, like the one offered by Second Wind Fund of Boulder County.
“Without that face to face contact it is difficult to spot students who need help,” Malecha said. “So much of what we report is that initial gut feeling that something is not right. Rarely do kids self-disclose what is going on.”
If a teacher or parent suspects a youth is suffering from suicidal ideation please reach out to the child's school counselor for a possible referral to Second Wind Fund of Boulder County or reach out to SWFBC directly at 720-212-7527 or email@example.com. Second Wind Fund of Boulder County provides free mental health therapy to uninsured or underinsured youth struggling with suicidal ideation.
Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Colorado Crisis Services
Text "TALK" to 38255