School counselors in the Valley seeing more anxiety, discuss changes to increase support for students

Calming room at Broadway High School available for students to decompress
Calming room at Broadway High School available for students to decompress(WHSV)
Published: Sep. 6, 2022 at 12:49 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - In data released earlier this year, the National Survey of Children’s Health found that between 2016 and 2020 there was an increase in anxiety and depression among kids ages 3 to 17.

School counselors around the Valley have noticed this increase across almost all grade levels, and say they’ve made some changes to better serve their students.

“I mean my job is to make sure kids can do their best in school. So I always say, ‘Can your brain work really well when you’re stressed out?’ No, so we need to get you to a place where you’re calm and happy and having fun and then your brain can learn better,” River Bend Elementary School Counselor Kim Muraskin said.

Muraskin says she’s noticed an increase in anxiety in some of the younger students at River Bend.

“An increase in behavior issues just kids unable to regulate their own emotions and sometimes that leads to acting out behaviors,” Muraskin said.

She has the opportunity to visit with every class every other week, and focuses on teaching kids to be proactive about how their feeling.

“Understanding kind of feelings in yourself and others and how no feelings are wrong, they just might make you feel uncomfortable and then how do we deal with that and how do we have empathy for other people,” Muraskin explained.

At Montevideo Middle School in Penn Laird, counselor Tim Luikart says already this year, he has seen younger students become more comfortable speaking about issues they may be facing.

He says a common source of stress for 6th graders is the adjustment from elementary school to middle school. Montevideo has also brought on an additional support staff member within the counseling department.

“In the end we all want to be known, we all want to be heard, so kids are willing when you give them the space and the support to share that,” Luikart said.

Spaces like that at Broadway High School, where staff have created a new ‘Calm and Quiet’ room for students to decompress.

And as seniors get closer to graduation, also creating a place where any type of problem academic or otherwise can be discussed.

“It’s one of my favorite parts of the job, is to be this kind of safe person that students can come to if they need help with anything. It can be concerns or stress about what they’re gonna do after school or it could be stress at home whatever that is we’ll help them to work through whatever the issue is,” Counseling Director at Broadway Matthew Kinman said.

Within Harrisonburg City Public Schools, there will be training provided to both middle school and high school level families on suicide prevention.

Danielle Brino, the Counseling Director at Harrisonburg High School says although last year was the first year back to face-to-face instruction, there was lots of anxiety between students, staff, and families coming back after the height of the pandemic.

“We definitely put some extra supports in place to help our students be able to manage their emotions, and I think that’s where we’re at now is we’re having the ability to really talk openly with students and staff about mental health,” Brino said.

All of the counselors say they have an open-door policy for their students to drop in before or after school or are often seen by appointments that are made by students themselves or their families.