Supporting a Community

Supporting a Community

Northwest Nazarene University
Aug 25, 2020
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Emmie Wright

Like many in the world of education, Emmie Wright’s  life changed in an instant when the Glenns Ferry School District in Idaho moved to remote learning in mid-April. The 2020 Master of Science in Counseling graduate received the unique opportunity of trading her internship as a school counselor for a full-time job—all in the midst of a global pandemic. Wright expressed sadness that she was just beginning to make strides with the students when the school closed, forcing her to figure out how to reach her students remotely. Fortunately, Wright had taken a distance counseling class at NNU.

“I’m so glad I did take that class,” she said. “It really helped me have an edge ... as soon as this started happening I thought, ‘well I know I can fall back on my notes and textbook.’”

Assistant Clinical Professor for the Department of Counselor Education Chandra Salisbury said the telemental health training Wright received is exciting because the community she works with is rural and the community does not have adequate local accessible counseling. The training focused on meeting the needs of “some of the most isolated and vulnerable populations.”

“This training familiarized the participant with the needs of the rural and hard to reach community members in order to provide the most effective, evidence-based, ethical services,” Salisbury said. “Having accomplished this all before even crossing the graduation stage, shows her dedication to all she serves. We could not be more proud to have Emmie be a graduate of NNU’s Counselor Education Department.”

The experience Wright received in the classroom is something she is also sharing with other counselors. During a virtual meeting with her peers, she was able to share how she was adapting to the change.

“My first move was I sent out a power announcement to all teachers in the district and students in fourth to 12th grade urging them to reach out to me by email or to call the (school).”

Wright says her kids were already comfortable communicating with her by email so the switch wasn’t too different, but she wanted them to know that even though she wasn’t in her office she was still there for them.

“I tell them if they are struggling, they can email me and I will get back right away,” she said. “Even on the weekends.”

This consistent communication flow was especially important since Wright is currently the only school counselor in the town. When Wright first inquired about the position in Glenns Ferry she was working as a habilitative intervention therapist in Boise, and, while the work was fulfilling, she knew she wanted to work inside a school. Despite being nervous to take on such an important role while still a student herself, Wright said she jumped at the chance to take the position and make the move to a smaller city.

“I knew I was going to say ‘yes’ if they offered it to me,” Wright said. “I really do like the small-town community.”

Wright has worked hard to connect with her kids and to earn their trust, especially during her first month in January. Without a consistent counselor at the school, she found it difficult, at first, to get the students to open up to her.

“That was tough—it was a lot of triage because they had gone a month without a counselor. I knew it would be challenging,” she said.

Eventually, the students began opening up to her and started to encourage one another to talk to her.

“It’s been really good,” Wright said. “I’ve never been bored, and I always leave work feeling fulfilled.”

And while the school was closed and students were learning at home, Wright did her best to comfort the students and remind them that it is okay to be weary during these stressful times.

<>“Every single minute all of our lives is different than it was before ... it’s okay to ebb and flow in this time and taking care of yourself is the most important thing.”

“In our elementary school, we have implemented a caring classroom community, which is where teachers have morning meetings with students to build relationships and teach them resiliency and how to develop positive coping skills,” Wright said in a news release distributed by Blue Cross of Idaho. “In high school, we have our PILOT Committee designed to build relationships between staff and students. We are doing moodcheck Mondays in all high school classrooms to follow up with students, and we have a PILOT Day where students and staff work collaboratively on tasks that better our building and the learning environment for our students.”

The school year ended without Wright returning to campus to see her students in a normal setting, but she is excited about returning in the fall.

“There’s a lot that is rewarding about my job, I’m just so lucky to get to do this job and this work,” Wright said. “I definitely feel like I am where I’m supposed to be and doing what I’m supposed to be doing,.”