Lester Eggleston, the new director of counseling for the Bedford Public Schools, envisions a dual challenge in this unique academic year of recovery.
“The biggest challenge for everybody now is the unknown,” he remarked in an interview last week. “We all expected to be done with the pandemic and we are far from it, not knowing what to expect next, not knowing the mandates and expectations on schools’ staff and families. It’s really tough.”
“The second challenge,” he continued, “is going about the business of teaching and learning while tending to the social-emotional needs of kids, families, and staff. We are all being impacted by the pandemic, and it’s not like you can just pull down the blinds and go back to things normal.”
“The challenges have changed a little bit,” he acknowledged.
Eggleston comes to Bedford after eight years as a counselor in the Arlington schools. He was also director of guidance at Lexington High School from 2005 to 2012. A graduate of Dartmouth College, he also holds a master’s degree in applied educational psychology from Northeastern University.
“I have been a counselor for over 20 years and still love it as much as when I first started,” Eggleston asserted. After a month in Bedford, though still “feeling my way through the nuances,” he is certain of the foundation for success: “The more we can work together, K through 12, to align programming and vision, the same way we would for academic subjects, the better off it will be for kids.”
During the summer, he reported, “our counselors went to a training over the summer with the superintendent on the RULER program, offered by Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. It offers a framework for emotional learning in schools.” (The Yale Center explains that the acronym RULER represents the five skills of emotional intelligence: Recognizing, understanding, labeling, expressing, regulating.)
One big difference from last year is obvious, he observed: “the biggest difference from last year is everyone is required to be here — you don’t spend half your time reaching out and just trying to find the students.”
Therefore, “While we are trying to educate kids, we try to be good people, check in on each other, support each other, so that people know that there is someone in the building that cares about you.”
At the elementary and middle school levels, he said, “counselors are on the front lines, greeting kids at the door, walking them to class, meeting them in the cafeterias.” They are focusing on “self-care, resiliency, mental health.”
At Bedford High School, “Some students are looking for schedule changes or planning for their post-secondary futures, and others are just trying to make it through the day. Everyone has a different level of need and a different priority. We try to take them where they are and try to be a resource.”
Members of the counseling staff at BHS “have their own advisories, every week in small groups. It gives them an opportunity to be seen by kids not on their caseloads and provide support on a consistent basis. Students sign up for appointments electronically. Administrative assistants triage their needs and make sure that they are seen. We have referral processing in place for students who need additional levels of support.”
“Based on my own experience,” Eggleston said, “this is really challenging: finding that common thread between the work being done at the elementary level and the students we send off into the world after graduation.”
“I think it can be done. It requires dialogue, communication, and coordination, to get on the same page and the same language, so that the kids have some sense of what to expect at those critical transitions.”
“My role is to support and advocate the work the counselors are doing in each building,” he said. “Informally I always have opportunities to connect with students. I see my role as creating opportunities and processes for the counselors, social workers, adjustment counselors.”
“I am looking forward to meeting everyone, figuring out what has worked well, and continuing to grow and meet the needs of the students at each level going forward,” Eggleston asserted. “It’s an ongoing process for sure, but we have a great staff in place.”
The professionals in the Counseling Department include:
- Bedford High School: Alan Chang, Brian DeChellis, Janel Halupowski, Hermance Septembre, and Samantha Thyne, school counselors; Charles Alperin, adjustment counselor; Jennifer Funk Lighthouse coordinator; and Meredith Tobe, administrative assistant.
- John Glenn Middle School: Corinne Amirault, Marcy Beinert, and Maureen McDermott, school counselors; Renee Anderson and Elizabeth McCarthy adjustment counselors
- Lane School: Brittany Thomas, school counselor
- Davis School: Paula Francis-Springer, school counselor; Kalyani Seth, adjustment counselor.
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763