Elsa Fernandez Weick taught elementary school for seven years and middle school for seven more years. Seeing a need for mental health intervention, she then attended and graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2014 with a master's degree of education in counseling. Play therapy classes were her favorite, so Weick knew she had to come back to the elementary level to be a counselor for young students. She worked as a school counselor in Cy-Fair ISD for about 5 years, then moved to the Austin area after her own children has moved out of the house. She came to Leander ISD last year and helped open Larkspur Elementary School.
What do you find most rewarding about your job?
Easy....our culture of belongingness. I love being able to instill habits and practices that cultivate a way of being on our campus for everyone, children and adults alike, that accepts every child for who they are today. With this, a feeling belonging, no doubt, allows children to feel confident to take risks, have fun along the way, and find their potential. It is my goal every single day, with every single child or adult I come in contact with, to be that someone they can trust to accept them for exactly who they are right now. I also love guiding students to be their own problem solvers. Talking out problems, no matter personal or academic, no matter how big or little in the average person's opinion, infuses students with a light inside them that builds courage and the ability for them to see their own potential.
This is a unique school year. What will be some of the biggest stressors for students?
Actually so far I would say the biggest stressor is seeing their own caretakers stressed. They also miss their teachers and fellow classmates. To help them stay in a positive and hopeful state, at my campus, the coach, art teacher, music teacher, librarian and I have teamed up to kick the day off for our students with a "Good for You" time right after our daily announcements. It is a time set aside that is not academic, but more focused on simply seeing our faces since we haven't been able to see them very much. It's also a time the kids can develop their emotional response to stress, and refine their physical health as well as their Fine Arts skills. We started this on 8/17 and hope they like it! I even had a teacher make me a little mascot to help with Social Emotional needs–his name is Bolt. As you can see we ALL contribute to the kids health and education.
What steps can families take to minimize stress?
Families can certainly turn to us to help. All elementary school counselors have many resources on our websites to help them, we are happy to take a good old fashioned phone call, and we are still doing virtual counseling sessions. I even have a virtual calming corner on my website to help kids, or parents. So far I have found that whatever problem the parent/guardian has, after we talk it out they feel much better. In a way, my counseling services have reached out to parents as well. The stress level of parents varies, but they all want to do their best for their children, and maintain their income sources as well. Some are more comfortable than others with virtual learning. This is where I see stress the most. I hope they know that teachers, the administration team, front office staff and myself–we are all more than happy to walk them through any hurdles they are encountering.
If a student is learning remotely and struggling emotionally, what resources are available to them?
We are 100% available to do individual counseling sessions or group sessions. I also work very closely with our teachers. Teachers are doing a great job of sharing with me if they are worried about a certain student or group of students, then I call the family to check in. Checking in with the family allows me to further foster a good relationship with them, and I also give them a sense of security letting them know I am here keeping and eye on their child, and some also set up individual or group sessions. I also pop in on their Zoom learning from time to time just to say hi. We also have a great team of social workers and Licensed Professional Counselors that we team up with to help families. We also have a long list of resources that we can share should the family need more specialized services.
When district students–or parents–are feeling frustrated with all the unknowns about the future, what is one thing you hope they remember?
We care about their growth, and more importantly during this pandemic, we care about their social emotional development. We can get through this with a calm, positive outlook. Yes we are running into many unknown problems, yet we work diligently to solve them to serve their unique needs. We've even been able to create new and improved ways to look at educating a child. Some great things are coming out of these needed adjustments. I know that our special education teachers are working late every night to tend to their caseload, and they still have a big smile on their face when teaching! We are lucky to have the leadership of Dr. [Bruce] Gearing, he supports social emotional learning like no other superintendent I've ever worked with.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
It is critical to tend to the emotional state of teachers as well. They are used to being the caretakers of many, and right now they need help. If they are well, the kids will see it and feel it as well! However, the opposite is also true. At Larkspur we have a thriving network where every adult has another they can lean on. I've also created a social emotional support team to help teachers and staff. The response to this initiative so far is great!
Leander ISD professional counselor offers insight on coping with new school year
Elsa Fernandez Weick came to Leander ISD last year and helped open Larkspur Elementary School. (Courtesy Leander ISD)