When teenagers hit some tough spots, like family problems or academic stress, they can go to their parents, their teachers — or they can go to each other.
Many high schools facilitate student support groups as part of their counseling services.
“We keep the support group going, get discussion going,” said Anita Williams, a guidance counselor at Mesa’s Westwood High School. “It’s not really a counseling group. It’s support — the kids supporting each other.”
The groups help students with their academics, too, she said.
“When their mind is gone worrying about other topics, they can’t concentrate in school,” she said.
All high schools in the Mesa Unified School District offer such groups, though the topics vary from school to school.
Westwood sessions beginning in the next few weeks and continuing after the holidays include such topics as stress management, cultural awareness, grief and loss, and senior transitions.
“Some are personal-level types of issues, family communication or stress management, and others are directed toward academics, such as mentoring for college,” said Anna Cicero, chairwoman of the Westwood guidance department.
Counselors create the sessions by giving all 2,200 Westwood students confidential “personal needs assessments” to complete in their homerooms. They then create sessions based on indicated student needs, Cicero said.
Sessions are held weekly for five or six weeks, with topics changing between fall and spring semesters. Most groups number between 10-15 students, she said.
“Many of the tips they receive are from their own peers, but they’re always facilitated by one or two counselors,” Cicero said. The counselors also provide referrals to other services found at churches or community agencies that can help the families involved, she added.
But scheduling the sessions can be tricky.
Williams said counselors try to offer them at rotating times so students don’t miss the same class every week to attend the group sessions. After-school sessions don’t work well, she said, because of many students’ work obligations.
Scheduling conflicts were one of the major reasons one other East Valley school stopped offering the groups.
“We used to do groups about four years ago, but it just got incredibly difficult to schedule them at an appropriate time where they don’t miss academics,” said Jim Anderson, principal at Chandler’s Andersen Junior High School. “Some kids really benefitted from it, but some didn’t open up. So now, as they identify the problem, the counselors target those kids and work with them on an individual basis.”