December 2019

Interview with Courtney Hart, LCSW-C

Courtney Hart, School Counselor, was recently interviewed to bring an awareness to our Health and Wellness curriculum, and to learn more about her role at Harford Day.

Mrs. Hart holds a Masters in Clinical Social Work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore, with a specialization in Families and Children. Currently, at HDS, she works with students in grades 4-8 and teaches a Health and Wellness class to students in grades 6-8.  

Describe the Health and Wellness curriculum for our Middle School students.

The Middle School Health and Wellness curriculum is focused on helping students develop skills to live a healthy life now and in the future. The curriculum is focused on wellness beyond physical health, focusing on mental, social and inner health, too. Each grade focuses on similar topics with a difference in specifics and depth based on the age range. 

In sixth grade, we focus on understanding the importance of taking care of the whole self, not just physical health but a balance between emotional, physical, intellectual and social health. Through a variety of topics, students practice skills to help them manage the stress of middle school, make healthy choices for their body and mind, and communicate effectively with others. 

In seventh grade, students build on these topics by learning more about stress and mental health challenges, practicing refusal skills for alcohol and other drugs, and building self-advocacy skills. 

In eighth grade, students work on building skills to help them make safe and healthy choices as teenagers. Students learn skills to help with managing the stress of transitioning to high school. Students also dive into a deeper understanding of alcohol and other substances and conflict resolution skills. Students learn about sexual identity, healthy relationships, and sexual safety. 

The goal of the curriculum is to help students develop the skills to make healthy choices for themselves as they grow up. Teenagers by nature don’t want to listen to lectures from adults on healthy choices. They think we couldn’t understand what it’s like to be them, and they are programmed to take risks. I’m a product of the DARE generation, and scaring kids into taking care of themselves didn’t work for a lot of people my age. This is something I circle back to a lot when thinking of activities to teach concepts in Health and Wellness. Rather than scaring them into feeling like they “have” to make the right choice or their brain will fry on a pan, I want to empower them. I want students to get the knowledge and develop understanding while taking ownership of their own health. I want them to have the skills to evaluate effectively what would or would not be a healthy, safe choice for themselves.  

What is the difference between a therapist and a school counselor?

A school counselor’s focus is to help the students be able to succeed in school. This could mean talking with a student individually if they are having a hard day, helping two classmates mediate a conflict, providing character education lessons in the classroom or working with a small group to help them develop specific skills. The nature of a school counselor’s work is more supportive and educational. A counselor might work with a student on a specific goal but the counselor’s role is not to provide therapy in school. 

A therapist, on the other hand, would work with their clients on specific goals in a therapeutic environment. In that space, their client is able to process feelings, work on specific treatment goals and develop skills to help with specific challenges that likely affect them in more than just the school environment. A therapist might meet with their client weekly or every other week. A therapist would likely work with the parents of their young client, also, to help the whole family learn skills to benefit the young person. 

Tell us about your role as a counselor at HDS.

As the school counselor for Grades 4-8, I do a variety of different things. I am present in the school building for students to talk to if they are having a hard day, struggling with a peer, or challenged by a class. I keep my door open when I’m in my office, and a sign on my door if I’m not, so students can find me if they need me. I am a resource for them, and I try to be as available as possible to be that resource. Along with that,  I talk with students together if they are having a conflict, I run small groups at lunch to help students build skills like stress management or conflict resolution skills, and I connect with parents to help build relationships and support their students. I also work closely with teachers and administration to help support students in the classroom. 

What’s the best thing about being a counselor at Harford Day?

The students are really wonderful! They are each so unique, and I really like that I can get to know each one of them individually, but the one thing that really drew me to Harford Day was the value that is placed on whole student wellness. 

From the very first time I interacted with anyone at Harford Day, which was when my husband taught children’s yoga here, it was clear just how much the administration and teachers actually care about doing all that they can to help their students become the best versions of themselves, not just academically but also socially and emotionally. 

The research is out there that shows that more than natural-born talent or intelligence, success actually comes from grit and emotional intelligence. Students need to learn how to deal with hard situations, cope with their feelings, take care of themselves, and have empathy and compassion for others. The administration and the faculty at Harford Day get that. They understand that in our changing, and at times very uncertain world, students need to get more than just an academic education. What better place for a mental health professional with a background in yoga and mindfulness to be?

Tell us about Franklin!

Franklin is my Chocolate Labradoodle, and he’s wonderful! He’s a year and a half old cross between a Standard Poodle and a Labrador Retriever, and about 80 pounds of love. Over the last year, he has been intermittently training to certify as a therapy dog through the American Kennel Club. He’s an amazing dog! His eyes look like there’s a person inside, he’s so gentle, and he loves children of all ages. 
When he comes to my private practice office with me, he greets each client, lets them pet him and love on him, and then he plays with a toy or sleeps. He sleeps a lot for a young dog. But it’s good for a therapy dog because he doesn’t disrupt sessions or need a lot of attention. I have seen some clients who have been really resistant to therapy have their whole concept of it transformed when they see him at the door. He might be a better therapist than I! 

I hope one day once he gets his certification to have him come visit at the school, but it gets tricky. In my office, one-on-one, there is a lot less commotion and excitement, and everyone knows to expect him, his dander, and his occasional rambunctiousness. In a school, it’s a lot different. There really is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog, and we don’t know everyone’s history or comfort level with dogs, either. Right now, he’s still training, anyway. I am hoping he will get certified when he’s two. He still has a little bit of puppy energy and excitement when meeting new people. 

Donna Decker

Director of Advancement