GPA class acts as extension to guidance department


Kavya Desikan

Keertana Gangireddy, Photography Editor

Although the faculty in the WA guidance department is more than qualified to advise students throughout the day, guidance coordinator Wendy Pechacek and counselor Leah Birnkrant have created a new class this year: Guidance Peer Assistants, or ‘GPA’. The main focus of the class is to create a more comfortable environment for students, by offering the alternative of talking to a fellow classmate, instead of a counselor.

Students were chosen to be a GPA based on an application filled out last year. Pechacek and Birnkrant wanted applicants to have traits similar to those of a guidance counselor.

“We [myself and Mrs. Birnkrant] were looking for students who are the kind of students that other students tend to seek out when they are feeling badly or [when] they’re needing someone to talk to […] We’re looking for students that would be trustworthy, and honor the confidentiality of students that were to share anything to them. But also, students that were interested in learning more about […] the symptoms of anxiety and depression and how to help students […]” Pechacek said.

A senior GPA, Yiwen Xiong, joined the class to be a second option to people who want to talk to a guidance counselor.

“I am there [as a GPA] to act almost like a triage, and someone who is able to help [a student] in case their guidance counselor is gone. I applied because I knew that mental health and stress in general was a massive issue at WA, and I wanted to do something about it” Xiong said.

Students taking the class have the option to get class credits, or community service hours.

Students who wish to converse with someone in the guidance department are offered the alternative to meet with a GPA, as well as de-stress with several cognitive distractors, including coloring books, a zen garden, and an iPad mini with several therapeutic applications. The distractors, which are meant to help students calm themselves down and return to class, were picked by the GPAs.

“There is at least one GPA scheduled for each block, and some blocks have two” said Birnkrant.

To prepare the Guidance Peer Assistants for the role that they are taking on, Pechacek and Birnkrant host training sessions once a month. They began with discussing the importance of confidentiality, and when to ask a counselor for help in a certain situation.

“The trainings have been good. I’ve learned a lot about what I’ve wanted to learn, because the curriculum and training is structured around what we want to learn about, so she [Mrs. Pechacek] sends out a survey with different topics, and we answer. We’ve tailored our education to benefit our mental health and community” Xiong said.

Although the assistants are trained to act accordingly in many situations, if they were to deal with a student who shares information that may put themselves in danger, the GPA is obligated to report it to the student’s guidance counselor. He or she will fill out a specific blue slip outlining the situation, and will stick it on to the window of the counselor’s office to inform them about the circumstances, and the counselor will take it from there.

“Because we’re licensed counselors, we would be the people that should be working with a student that’s in that situation where they might hurt themselves or somebody else. But in many other situations where a student just wants to have a break, if they’re feeling overwhelmed and need place to cry for a little while, or just kind of do something other than continue to have their mind racing and worrying about something, they can have that with a supportive person that can listen, and maybe give them some ideas about things they could try. That’s a very useful resource to have available here,” Pechacek said.

The GPA class is a step from the guidance department to let students know that there are several people willing to look out for them on a bad day.

“I think I think we’re always looking for layers to add that would be ways to support students.” Pechacek said. “So we were just trying to find another way that some students might find more comfortable or more easy to ask for, so that when someone comes down here, there’s always something available no matter what they feel like they need at the time.”

Follow the GPA instagram page @wa_counseling!