Counsel and guidance to middle schoolers
Providence Associate Lorrie Scheidler has worked 16 years as a school counselor at Otter Creek Middle School in Terre Haute, Indiana.
She wouldn’t describe her work as mercy. But as I listen to her stories of sixth–eighth grade students and situations she encounters each day, that is how I describe it.
“I had a student just yesterday that came to me sobbing with a note that read, ‘I wish you were dead. Nobody likes you. Here are some ways you could kill yourself: drink bleach, starve to death or slash your wrists. Go kill yourself.’ I talked with her and consoled her as best I could.” Later, after getting a sample of the child’s handwriting from her teacher, Lorrie called her back to her office. I looked at her and said, “I think I found out who wrote that note. After a blank stare from the student, I said — you did.” Her eyes fell and her shoulders sagged. “The sad thing was that she does feel that way every day.”
Listening with compassion
In every situation Lorrie struggles not to react but to respond. She encounters hurting or angry students each day. For her, mercy is defined as listening with compassion and understanding.
And this goes beyond the students. She involves parents and alerts them to their child’s concerns, behaviors and mindset. “My biggest fear is that something the child encounters at school will be the last straw and the student will take their own life.”
“Cuttings” and “bullycide” are some of the subjects of a beginning-of-the-school-year unit Lorrie presents to all sixth, seventh and eighth graders as well as staff. “I explain that they may hear about or even observe another child has cut or who has been bullied. I stress the importance of reporting so the child can be helped.”
In these sessions, Lorrie doesn’t talk about “showing mercy to each other” in so many words. But she talks about acceptance of differences regarding race, sexual orientation and disabilities.
“I try to get them to see the connection between how they treat one another and what effect that has on another child. I tell them how often bullying has led to the suicide of a child. I also talk about the effect it has on them.”
She stresses that they have the responsibility to be the best person they can be. Even to those they may not like or those who do not treat them with respect.
She tells them, “You have the capacity to be a bigger person. Don’t give in to meanness and cruelty because it is so destructive. It hurts everyone involved.”
Lorrie’s day often finds her in a group, talking with several students having a conflict with one another because of lies or rumors spread about them.
Again, she takes a role of mediator. She tries to model for the children how such situations can be handled in a calm and reasonable (merciful) way.
“It’s sad that violent and reactive behaviors learned or modeled at home, on the streets or in the media are all some children know. And of course, the violence and guns in war video games on TV, in movies and on social media just make reactive and knee-jerk responses and even violent behavior seem ‘normal.’”
I ask Lorrie about the every-day challenges. “It’s not having enough time to see all the students who need counseling for social, emotional or academic problems. There are so many facets to the job of a school counselor that I never feel as though I’ve caught up when I leave work. I just hope I didn’t miss a student in crisis who needed to see me before the school day ended. It’s hard when you have approximately 900 students and only one school counselor.”
So, what keeps you doing this, I ask. “I absolutely love it,” Lorrie responds, her enthusiasm evident. “I love the energy and excitement and discovery students go through during this stage of their lives. It is a very challenging time in their lives. I love being a part of helping them work through this period of uncertainty. The work is very fulfilling and I will regret it when retirement (not soon) will bring all of this to a halt. I will miss the students and seeing their growth each year.”
Learning to be
“I know I don’t reach everyone right now and that can be frustrating. But I trust that most of them will ‘come into their own’ in time. After all, they are just learning to be themselves. And they may make bad choices and mistakes along the way. That’s just being human. They have lots of opportunities to do great things in this world and I know they will.”
Near the end of the interview, I ask what she receives as a school counselor. Her eyes tear up as she quietly responds. “It’s the power I have to help or promote change in these kids and knowing that they do the same for me.”
(Originally published in the Spring 2016 issue of HOPE magazine.)