District Hires New Counselor

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Natalie Suh

Social and Emotional Learning Specialist Elizabeth Gumbis speaks to the Leadership class.

Natalie Suh, Design, In-Depth Editor

Previously, five doors have been accessible to the student body for schedule changes or college guidance, but this year a new door has opened. The guidance office has a new counselor solely committed to the well-being of students.

Elizabeth Gumbis has been appointed to the position of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Specialist this year coinciding with the district’s expansion of the counseling staff to better accommodate the emotional needs of students. Gumbis received a bachelors degree at Indiana University in English and Psychology then went on to get her masters degree in social work at the University of Michigan. She got her second masters degree in education at Columbia Teacher’s College and was an English teacher for six years before changing her career.

“After working in the classroom for a while and working with different types of students, I could see how all those students were overloaded with stress,” Gumbis said. “The stressors are different, like internal motivation, or external factors that just pop up in the way. I was really moved by that and felt compelled to work with kids in that capacity.”

The school district hired SEL specialists at the high school level to approach the goal of becoming a world-class district. Superintendent Rich Machesky developed a four-pillar approach to the goal of becoming world-class, one of them being attending to the social, emotional and physical well-being of all. He developed this pillar at a conference with his team for high-performing school districts.

“What they’re finding is in high performing school districts there’s a significant amount of stress and competition, and in fact, there’s what they refer to as hyper-competition amongst students, parents and some staff as well,” Machesky said. “This hyper-competition is creating a tremendous amount of social and emotional pressure on students, so we thought, ‘Wow, that sounds like some things that are happening here in the Troy School District.’ The more we thought about that, the more we realized that [pillar] was something we really need to include.”

A study done by the American Psychological Association showed that “teens are more likely to report that their stress level has slight or no impact on their body or mental health [than adults].” Students often push themselves academically, so Gumbis aims to emphasize students’ mental and physical health.
“My desire is to work with people who are full of strengths but happen to be struggling at the moment,” Gumbis said. “He or she needs to know how to take care of themselves, and how to find balance in their life. Without feeling stability internally, it’ll be difficult for anyone to maximize his or her potential and grow into the person that they want to be.”

Gumbis is also working to integrate the social aspect of SEL into student life. During homecoming weekend, she worked with the new Intro to Leadership class to put together an event for students. Members of the leadership class, as well as other students, gathered before the parade to eat pizza and socialize. After the parade, a group of students attended the football game together.
Gumbis continues to work with the Intro to Leadership class to plan more events for students, but also looks forward to working with other groups within the school.

“I anticipate going into classes to teach social-emotional lessons,” Gumbis said. “I’d love to do psychoeducation about the brain, mindfulness, self-awareness and emotion regulation. I think these topics are very relevant to teenagers’ lives, especially in this building where students push themselves so hard. We want to attend to the whole student’s well-being—not just the intellectual. That’s why these positions exist.”