Unsung heroes: A moment of recognition for NHS’ counselors


No one in the world has made it through this past year unscathed. People are struggling to manage both their physical and mental health, made only harder due to the pressures that come with attending school. However, this story isn’t about the students trying to recieve an education amid a global pandemic. It’s about the unsung heroes responsible for guiding those students through high school and into adulthood, acting as a sponge to soak up every anxiety, and as the candle leading them through the dark. This story is about the counselors.

With the unique circumstances of this school year, NHS’s staff has had their hands full trying to maintain a stable and organized learning environment for everyone at school.

“For example we now have students at home 100% of the time. The counselors have had to adjust to be able to support those students since they won’t have the opportunity to see them during the school day,” NHS principal Dr. Craig McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey recognized that this year has demanded a lot of flexibility from the staff, yet he remains proud of the efforts and adaptability of the school’s counselors as they continue to be a great resource for the students and their needs.

“There have been many new processes and procedures to navigate, keep track of, and communicate with students and families,” NHS counselor Andrew Smeathers said. “Everyone at NHS has been asked to do more than ever before.”

Acting as a shoulder to cry on for those who need it is an admirable and compassionate profession, one that can take a lot out of someone, something that veteran professional therapist Eric Wood is all too familiar with.

“As you may suspect, being effective as a therapist requires an aptitude for genuine empathy. When I encounter a client in pain, I do feel it intensely,” Wood said.

The ability to show and feel empathy is something that makes one human, but when everyone is dealing with their own problems, it’s hard to recognize the difficulties others are facing. But for someone who is struggling, the worst thing they can do is keep it bottled up.

“No one wants to be the person who complains, but sometimes you just need to get it out,” NHS counselor Jacob Miller said.

A big step to getting help dealing with one’s mental health is to reach out to someone who can help,

“Especially this year, it is important to remember that there are people here to help you. The hardest thing you can do is ask for help but sometimes those three words, ‘I need help’ are the most important words you can say to another person,” Smeathers said.

The counselors at Noblesville High School have chosen to care for and comfort every single student, and have continued to do so every single day despite the unfortunate circumstances of this past year. This year has brought an extreme amount of stress into everyone’s lives, something that the counselors are tasked with helping alleviate, while also having to manage their own mental health.

With schedule changes, social distancing, and personal issues of their own, the counselors have had a lot on their plate.

“Coming in as a new counselor with new students has been very challenging… Adding in having some students in the building and others online made that process very time consuming and stressful because if I mess that up, a student may not graduate,” Smeathers said. “Nothing stays bad forever. Sometimes we just have to put our head down and get through the hard time knowing that brighter days are ahead.”

This year has taken everybody by surprise, and for the staff, having to regain as much control as possible over this situation and to continue to provide an education clearly has its challenges. Luckily for the students of NHS, their staff is dedicated to doing what’s best for them.

“It has been very challenging and many of us have had several sleepless nights worrying about how to support our students and each other,” McCaffrey says.

“I am extremely thankful because my favorite part of my job is everything about my job. In particular, meeting with students, college and career planning, and working alongside an amazing counseling team,” says counselor Allison Huey.

However the job isn’t always easy. Some things, like the circumstances of this year, are just out of their control.

“The hardest part of my job is not being able to solve all problems or make everyone happy,” counselor Maggie Schwartzkopf said. “As a counselor, I want to please everyone and that cannot always happen.”

One way to try and improve how one feels when under stress, is to change some things that they can control, a strategy Smeathers himself has adopted.

“Getting rid of my Twitter and Insta have been a huge positive in my life and I would challenge everyone else to do so. I am also a big believer in getting a good night’s rest,” he said.

There are numerous other strategies to try when trying to gain control over one’s own mind.

“Other helpful ways to deal with stress are through exercise, visualization, breathing exercises, and practicing positive coping skills and self-care,” Huey says.

And Miller agrees;

“Mental health is linked to your physical health…you take care of yourself physically, [it] will help improve your mental health…Our bodies, emotions, and brains are like a spiderweb, it is all interconnected and relies on each other,” he says.

Trying to balance the professional and personal lives of both the students and themselves, the counselors are say the are feeling the pressure of their responsibilities and what is being asked of them weighing down on their shoulders.

“Much of the mental obstacles I have had to overcome are finding the work and life balance,” Smeathers said. “I have had to make sure my priorities are right and take advantage of my time here at work so that I can be a dad and husband outside of work as much as possible.”

For someone going through a hard time, it’s important to remember the things and the people that they love, and whenever they might feel down, doing something they enjoy might help.

“Have a ‘toolkit’ of things that help someone unwind and reset – maybe that is music, drawing, exercise, Netflix, quality time.  Whatever that is, it is important to keep doing the things we enjoy,” Schwartzkopf said.

For people in charge of assisting students and staff in maintaining proper mental health and stability, it’s understandably hard to take the time to manage their own health. That’s why the people who run NHS say it’s important, especially this year, that the NHS counselors get the recognition they deserve for all that they do to better the lives of their students. In a normal year NHS counselors have their hands full, but this year, their impact has been astronomical.

In the end, McCaffrey says, “We can’t thank them enough for their hard work and sacrifice.”