* Trigger Warning: In this blog post, topics including Sexual Assault, SA trauma, SA education and counseling are mentioned. If that subject is sensitive for you in any way, please be advised.
Each month we select one SEL Champion in an effort to highlight amazing people within and beyond our community doing amazing work. Our January SEL Champion is Lauren Canton, a middle school counselor based out of Hawaii.
Lauren became interested in counseling when she was in college after working for a local SA crisis center doing prevention education. During this job, she would travel around to the different schools to present on topics relating to SA and SA prevention and lead thought-provoking discussions on those topics as well. She was moved at how many students lined up afterwards to ask her further questions, curious for the answers and to learn.
During these school visits, she realized how desperate kids were to have someone to talk to and have these difficult conversions with. Someone with knowledge who could provide guidance. From here, Lauren decided to become a middle school counselor. She wanted to counsel middle schoolers because she believes these to be the formative years, where a great deal of social emotional learning takes place. Here, Lauren could help build confidence in her students and teach them how to make healthy decisions in middle school so they would be better prepared for high school and the rest of their lives.
After teaching a leadership course the previous years, Lauren decided to build a course around SEL. With more prevention happening at schools with the younger students, the less intervention hopefully in the future. This makes the job of the counselor a great deal easier as well. Instilling in kids the skills they need to make healthy relationships on their own, so that kids in the future won’t need to access mental health services to intervene when challenges do happen.
Lauren’s SEL class is integrated into student’s schedules on a wheel system during 7th grade. This ensures that all students (regardless of which classes the student signed up for) will complete the course before they graduate. Even students who transfer into the school during 8th grade are added to the wheel schedule to make sure every student is receiving SEL education.
This course, predominantly created by Lauren, uses an array of tools (including some of iMPACTFUL’s Creative Coping Toolkits) to discuss topics like emotion, identification, healthy relationship building, communication, self-care, stress-management, gratitude, anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol awareness and so many more.
Lauren would describe her approach to school counseling in the simplest terms by saying, “I view my role as being a safe, supportive place, where kids can come and talk. I really think the most powerful thing I do is just be there for kids to just come and talk” (Lauren Canton). As mentioned earlier, Lauren is based out of Hawaii where many mental health services aren’t easily accessible. This makes her role as a school counselor even more critical.
When asked what her advice was, Lauren urged others working in the mental health sphere to focus on self-care. It’s difficult to take care of others without taking care of yourself first. She also wants to stress how important this SEL education is and how it should be ingrained in all kids to help them tackle adulthood with the appropriate tools. Not only does it make the job of the counselor easier, it allows the counselors to teach to and be present for students instead of focusing their efforts on intervention. This also helps to prevent kids from needing higher level services down the line. In other words, if a school has the opportunity to implement prevention education in their schools, she urges them to do so.
If you believe you know someone who is an SEL Champion in your community, nominate them by filling out the form linked HERE!