■ BY SUE ERWIN
There is a new face at The Island School this year, and she’ll be providing an important resource for students and their families this school year. , the new school counselor at the school, was born in Merton, Wisconsin. After graduating from high school, she attended the University of Wisconsin in Madison and earned a degree in psychology.
“I’m a Big Ten Badger fan,” she said, pointing to the wallpaper on her phone as proof. She continued on to earn a master’s degree in community counseling, and then she became a certified school counselor for students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Later she worked as a psychotherapist for several years in Wisconsin. Then she obtained a certification in alcohol and drug abuse and did dual-diagnosis therapy for both inpatient and outpatient clients for about five years. After that, she went into managed care as a behavioral health case manager.
Chris explained that in managed care, a therapist acts as a gatekeeper for counselors. She reviewed treatment plans for patients to determine if the treatment they were getting was appropriate for their situation.
“If I felt something wasn’t working right or was not appropriate, then I would review that case with a psychiatrist and decide what we needed to do regarding the patient’s level of care,” she said. Being a case manager gave her the opportunity to work standard business hours and be able to come home and spend time with her family in the evenings.
Chris and her husband, Dave, live in Englewood. They have four children: Nicolette, 26; Sarah, 25; Rebecca, 17; and D.J., 15. Nicolette lives in Sarasota and has a one-year-old son, George William. Sarah studied international economics in Switzerland. She met her husband while she was there, and the couple currently reside there. Rebecca just graduated from Lemon Bay High School last spring and is attending the University of South Florida in Sarasota. D.J. is in his sophomore year at Lemon Bay High School and is an active football player.
The Thompsons decided to move to Florida five years ago. Her parents lived in Englewood and were starting to have some health issues. “I had been coming down to visit them every year for 20 years, and I knew we would eventually probably make the move. So we decided it was time,” Chris said. After relocating to Florida, Chris worked as an inpatient psychotherapist at Riverside Behavioral Hospital in Punta Gorda.
“I worked one-on-one with clients doing family therapy, assessment and after-care planning. Many of the clients there were in severe crisis mode,” she said. She left Riverside four years ago to accept a position at the Johann Fust Library. “A passion of mine is life-long learning. I have volunteered in libraries most of my life, and when I saw this opening online, I thought it would be a good skill match. In that position, you’re helping people find things and you have to be resourceful – it kind of coincides with a counselor’s work,” Chris said.
Her position at the library was part time, so she started looking for something that would provide more hours. She thought substitute teaching might be a good option, so she met with Jean Thompson (Head-of-School) at the Island School and they discussed some options. Chris started working part time at the school last January. “My position was to help out the teachers, help at the fundraisers and help the students who were having social issues. After that one semester, I just fell in love with the kids,” she said.
Chris spent the summer working at the school with Jean to develop her position as school counselor into a full-time role. Her position is based on the American School Counselors Association national model for comprehensive counseling. The goal is to provide services with respect to each student’s individuality. Fostering positive attitudes, helping students reach their highest potentials and improving social relations are some important objectives of the job. “Counselors exist to effect change in students. We try to help them acquire knowledge, skills and a positive attitude that in the end will result in improved attendance, behavior and academic achievement,” Chris said.
Her job includes conducting classroom lessons on kindness, diversity and making safe and healthy choices. She helps students explore areas for growth and identity through a variety of resources. She also collaborates with school staff when a teacher notices a particular issue a student is having, and she’s available to talk with the parents about the matter so they understand what is happening.
“We try to focus on three areas with every child: academic, social/emotional and career. If a child is stressed or not sleeping at night, he or she isn’t going to be able to come to school and understand how to do complex math problems. So that’s why they brought me on board, so we can make sure each child has a positive experience and doesn’t fall through the cracks while getting an education here.” Chris does several social programs in the classroom with the kids every week.
Recently, she did one called “Project Uplift,” in which she portrayed different roles in positive and negative environments. The intention was to help students understand the importance of expectations. “One of my main goals this year is doing a multi-tiered program with the children. All children get the same education in the classroom, and the hope is that 80 to 90 percent of them will pick up the material. Then there are some who might need specialized homework or a group lesson, and then there are a few that may need something very specialized. Those kids will meet with me for individual student planning.” Chris does “lunch groups” at the school where she meets with 3rd and 4th grade girls for lunch and they talk about any social issues they may be having. “It’s all voluntary, no one is forced to come to the group, and they can attend if they want,” she said.
Chris said she recognizes that this generation of children is dealing with different kinds of problems, and they have to develop more diverse coping mechanisms. “Kids have crises, too. They just have different kinds of worries than adults. I think kids are resilient and can still develop good coping skills, but many of them are not talking and connecting with people in this digital age, so we as the adults need to be sensitive to that,” she said.