Pandemic can change the process, but not the heart

Remote or in-person, school counselors continue helping students

Malissa Wiggins

Our lives have changed significantly since COVID-19 began its cruel sweep across the globe nearly a year ago.

The pandemic has changed the way we work, travel and interact with loved ones, and it has also changed the way we educate our students.

What hasn’t changed is the need to help our students navigate their way through high school and be ready to successfully enter college, trade school, the armed services, or the work force.

That’s where counselors like Bethel High School’s Malissa Wiggins come into the picture. Wiggins, who has been a school counselor for 15 years, said COVID-19 hasn’t changed her outlook on work.

“We are still helping our students work through their anxieties, worries and crises,” she said. “We are still doing our best to get kids to graduate and move onto the next chapter of their lives. We are still changing schedules, changing the master schedule, helping students meet graduation requirements.”

While her role hasn’t changed, the way she performs her job certainly has. In normal years, Wiggins can single out students who need a little extra help and simply call them to her office for a face-to-face chat. This year she has had to be more creative — and persistent — to reach the kids who need the most help.

It would be easy for Wiggins to give up when she hits a dead end when tracking down a student. After all, she and her Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy husband have three of their own children and another on the way. But Wiggins hasn’t given up on her students because helping kids isn’t just her job — it’s her passion.

“I absolutely love watching these students grow into young adults. To know that I possibly took part in guiding them on the next chapter of their lives is so rewarding,” she said.

This has been a mentally taxing time for both adults and children, and Wiggins wants to make sure parents and students know they have resources to help them.

“I have had more parents reaching out for services than students,” she said. “Of course I still try to talk with my students, and we have two part-time social workers on staff who do a great job assisting with getting parents resources as well.”

Wiggins is on Bethel’s Equity Team, which meets regularly with the goal of better embracing our rich, diverse school community. The team looks at issues of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, religion, national origin, immigration status, language background, language proficiency, and family structure.

“As part of the Equity Team we have tried to incorporate crucial conversations with our staff in hopes that it would have a trickle down effect with students in the classroom,” she said.

Even in these trying times, Wiggins is excited about her work and proud to be able to help guide her students as they transition into adulthood and become valuable members of our community.

“We live and work in this community and wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said.

Helping kids learn is the driving force behind all we do in the Bethel School District.

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