Guidance department adapts to the hybrid model


Kavya Desikan

The entrance sign to the guidance office

Keertana Gangireddy, Co-Managing Editor

With the 2020-21 school year starting off in an unusual way in several respects, teachers and administrators had to come together and adapt to our current conditions in an attempt to find the new ‘normal’. WA Guidance, a department that holds immense importance and responsibility in our school community, was among many units that had to remodel their system in order to counsel students in a productive, but safe manner.

In order to adapt to the hybrid model, most guidance meetings will be remote only with individual students, where meetings for pod A students during A weeks are in the afternoons and during B weeks are in the mornings, and meetings for pod B students during B weeks are in the afternoons and during A weeks are in the mornings. Guidance coordinator Wendy Pechacek described adapting to the COVID-19 conditions as a “big challenge” for the department. 

We are all in this profession because we are helpers by nature.  We love spending time with our students, getting to know them, and then supporting them throughout their four years,” Pechacek said.   

Additionally, the guidance department has created a QR code for students — which is posted on the Guidance google classroom, the doors of the guidance offices, and with every classroom teacher — to contact their counselors to schedule a meeting. 

As for in-person meetings, the department is continuing with their counselor-on-call-schedule in the case that a student urgently needs to see a counselor. Setting up in-person meetings were a bit more difficult for the department considering the social-distancing guidelines it had to follow.

“We all have interior offices that are quite small.  We had to look at each office and figure out whether there was a way to arrange our furniture to allow for six feet of distancing if we wanted to meet with a student.  We also placed directional tape in our offices to help communicate to students where they should sit if they enter our offices,” Pechacek said. 

Moreover, the department is planning on hosting Zoom presentations in place of their evening events, and meeting with freshmen individually instead of having counselor group meetings. Guidance intends for the one-on-one meetings to forge a relationship from the very start of the class of 2024’s high school experience. 

Pechacek volunteered for the SEL (Social-Emotional Learning) Reopening Committee this summer. Pechacek, along with the other members of the committee created a toolkit for teachers to incorporate social-emotional learning in their classrooms this year to reduce any student and teacher anxiety related to returning back to school. They also organized both district-wide and school-based professional development. 

To prepare for the 2020-21 school year, all counselors returned to school on August 25th to plan for the return of students, and enroll the students who were new at WA this year. The guidance department attended professional development regarding social-emotional well being and remote learning tools, and ensured that every classroom allowed for proper social distancing measures.

“Once families were assigned to pods by [the] Central Office, we worked with the teachers and administration to look at each classroom, determine its safe capacity under the 6 ft distancing guidelines, and then check each section to be sure there were not more students in A or B than that room could accommodate,” Pechacek said.

With the uncertainty of blocking and scheduling for this school year in the weeks leading up to the first day, many students including junior Mahi Patel were concerned about how their schedules would look in comparison to the ones released in June. Patel was placed into a class she wanted at the very last minute upon another student dropping it. She was notified only once schedules were officially released a few days before school.

“I was initially a little stressed for this upcoming school year and scheduling because everything was so up in the air. I wasn’t quite sure how schedules would look, [since I didn’t know if] if I would be able to take most of the same classes I was planning on taking, or if [my schedule] would be drastically different, with different teachers and everything.  I’m really glad that the schedules are pretty much the same as what came out in the beginning of the summer and the school was able to keep all classes relatively the same,” Patel said. 

Unfortunately, for the time being, the GPS (Guidance Peer Supports) program will not be able to meet with individual students this year, but those taking the class this year may be able to contribute to the guidance department by pitching in with the Guidance Instagram, or engaging in several writing projects for the student body such as SEL newsletters, freshman advice, and reviews for organizational/mindfulness apps.

The guidance department in general is working to promote social-emotional health by posting several resources on the Guidance Google Classroom, as well as their blog. The guidance department page also links a mental health and well-being website with several SEL resources for both families and students. 

“Introduce this moment to breath and connect with your body and emotions to your housemates and make it a daily household habit or ritual to practice good mental health hygiene during social distancing or quarantine.  You wash your hands multiple times a day, take each 20 second pause as an opportunity to breathe, connect with your body and name what you are feeling.  Good mental health hygiene is that easy– and also that important,” the website reads. 

Ultimately, Pechacek is looking forward to a healthy and dynamic school year, in which both students and teachers both come together to seek for the new ‘normal’.

“I’m hoping for a safe and healthy start to the year for all of our students so that they can begin to build relationships with their teachers and classmates.  I’m actively working to shift my mindset from mourning the way things used to be to searching for exciting new ways to connect with and support students and celebrating silver linings,” Pechacek said.