Program guides students through adolescence

Guidance Counselor Debra Anton
does an activity on communication
with Middle School students; seated,
from left are Patrick Evans,
James Gregory, and Ben Moore.

A new guidance program for Middle and Upper School students is designed to build strong coping skills and healthy attitudes.

The program, developed by Guidance Counselor Debra Anton, seeks to instill the confidence students need to make wise decisions in a rapidly changing world. During this period of great transition, adolescents begin to rely more on their peers to establish their identities, and they need to be aware that the decisions they make today can greatly impact their futures, she said.

“A teen’s life can be challenging, given the pressures and distractions they face, and the bombardment of media messages that are constantly undermining their self-image,” Anton said.

Young teens have a strong sense of urgency, she added. They need information and guidance toward making healthy lifestyle and behavioral choices. “During the adolescent years, students won’t always make those choices, but if they have enough factual information and assistance in developing solid coping skills, they will be better-equipped to rebound from any obstacle that comes along.”

Anton’s comprehensive approach to counseling includes individual support and advocacy for all students, as well as parent outreach. The program will provide classroom guidance for Middle School students and individual counseling and special programming for Upper School students.

Guidance services also include grief support, academic counseling, referrals for educational evaluations, speakers to address contemporary issues, and consultation with teachers regarding the needs of diverse learners. She also coordinates all standardized testing and the Duke Talent Identification Program in the Middle School, co-sponsors the Upper School SADD club, and enlists community resources for all mental health concerns.

This is Anton’s second year at USJ. She has been a school counselor for 13 years and in the mental health profession for more than 30 years. She also has K-12 certification in special education. Her sons graduated from USJ, so she knows well the students’ dedication to success and how the faculty nurtures their talents and supports their aspirations. “I love the family atmosphere,” Anton said.

“Parenting is not easy these days, and a teen’s lifestyle can be overwhelming to them at times. Despite our technological advances, emotional challenges still abound, and the rate of addiction in the United States is alarming. We must educate and support our students so that they can make informed choices.”

Through the program, students will continue to receive education about substance abuse and addiction, peer pressure, stress management, problem solving, and general coping skills, and year-round academic support. Anton also will address any issues impacting students that arise. For example, a speaker from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Memphis will address our students this fall about Internet safety.

“Engaging adolescents can be a challenge, but at this stage, it is their adult life and not so much their childhood we are forming,” Anton said. “It is incumbent upon the adults in their lives to prepare them for what lies ahead and to support their emerging independence with firm boundaries, timely and relevant information, a positive attitude, and compassion.”

Anton particularly enjoys her interaction with students in the classroom. They have amazing insights on the contemporary issues they face, she said. “They are intelligent, creative, and motivated to excel. They have a strong work ethic and a solid foundation of moral virtues that will take them far. It is a delight to be a part of their lives.”