Holidays can be hard on students, counselor says

Assuming the role as counselor for Meeker’s elementary and middle schools was a homecoming for Amy Chinn, who grew up here.

Assuming the role as counselor for Meeker’s elementary and middle schools was a homecoming for Amy Chinn, who grew up here.
Assuming the role as counselor for Meeker’s elementary and middle schools was a homecoming for Amy Chinn, who grew up here.
MEEKER I For students, the days leading up to Christmas are a time of excitement and anticipation. There are class parties and holiday programs, plus the long-awaited break from classes.

But, for some students, the holidays can be a difficult time. Whether it’s because of personal problems or family issues, the season of joy can be anything but.
For Amy Chinn, a counselor who divides her time between the Meeker elementary and middle schools, the lead-up to Christmas means her services may be needed more than at other times of the year. In her line of work, the problems she sees kids dealing with don’t take a break for the holidays.
“Before the holidays, it seems I have a lot of busy days,” Chinn said. “It can be a hard time. Some kids love having two weeks off (for the break), others don’t, and it can be hard on families. This time period, after Thanksgiving and through Christmas, can be kind of rough.”
A service the school district offers to help kids who are going through difficulties at home is called Changing Families, a program started by Margot Robb of Colorado West Regional Mental Health, which has offices in Meeker and Rangely.
“It’s typically an eight-week program,” Chinn said. “Right before Christmas, we wrapped up. It’s not like after eight weeks that connection is broken. I still meet with them individually. But that’s sort of how group therapy is recommended to be done. To have a starting point and an ending point.”
Chinn said the program offers support and lets students, whose home lives may have been disrupted by a major event such as divorce or remarriage or the loss of a job, know they are not alone.
“It’s basically support with same-age peers who are going through the same thing,” Chinn said. “We call it that (Changing Families) because it’s not all brand-new divorces, it may be a remarriage, or we have some kids who don’t live with either parent, or who have a parent who has been deployed overseas, any sort of change where mom and dad both aren’t at home.
“There are a lot of kids from divorced families everywhere, not just in Meeker,” Chinn continued. “Different kids deal with it differently. That’s the reality we live in today, and we need to do what we can to help kids deal with the reality.”
In her role as school counselor, Chinn coordinates the Changing Families program.
“It’s a group setting, and I facilitate,” she said. “Sometimes we’ll do some kind of a project that relates to the kids. You wish every kid could have a perfect life, but every kid doesn’t have a perfect life. And it’s not always the big things. Sometimes it’s the little things that kids struggle with.”
In the past, the elementary and middle schools haven’t had the services of a full-time counselor.
“Both of the principals wanted that, because they saw the need,” Chinn said. “It can be hard to be the principal and do the counseling, because you’re just too busy.”
Jason Hightower and Jim Hanks, the principals at the Meeker elementary and middle schools, are glad to have Chinn on board.
“I heard a staff member comment the other day — we were discussing some issues that some of our students were going through that we had never really known about before — the staff member said, ‘I wonder how many situations like this did we miss in the past?’” said Hanks, principal of Barone Middle School. “Having Amy here as a counselor has had a wonderful impact on our students. Generally speaking, having another person working with kids and looking out for the needs of students is always beneficial. However, having Mrs. Chinn here, with her talent and experience, takes it to another level. We have many students, whether they are in specific groups or not, who are better off because of her.”
Hightower, principal at Meeker Elementary School, agreed.
“Amy is fitting into the elementary school very, very well. The students seek her out and have responded really positively to having this level of support in the building,” Hightower said. “For those students who struggle at times with various difficulties, the counselor position provides yet another person they can lean on. As far as the Changing Families group goes, the kids and the families seem to really appreciate the support of the groups.”
The problems students at the elementary school go through can be different from the ones students at the middle school deal with.
“At the middle school, suddenly they’re trying to become an adult. A lot of times, it may be social problems, like not having any friends or not getting along in school,” Chinn said. “At the elementary school, it’s not so much that way. Some of the issues I deal with are real serious at both schools, but at the elementary school, it may be more bullying or not playing well together.”
Chinn tries to split her time evenly between the two schools.
“Monday and Wednesday, I try to be at the middle school exclusively, Tuesday and Thursday at the elementary, and then half a day at both on Friday,” she said.
Chinn, who has a teaching degree as well as a master’s in counseling, grew up in Meeker. Her parents — Jim and Peggy Joy — as well as her brothers, Leif and Neil, live here. So, she knows the community, but at the same time, a lot has changed in the 17 years since she last lived here.
“It’s been nice (to be back),” she said. “It’s been comfortable. But when you come back as an adult, you see everything through different glasses. Yet I’ve been so impressed with the community and how generous it is and how they want to help kids.”
Chinn and her husband, Dan, a former school counselor himself who is an on-call clinician with Colorado West, have a son, 14 months, and are expecting another child in March.
As much as Chinn enjoys her work and enjoys being back in Meeker, the nature of her job is such that it can take its toll emotionally.
“One thing you get better at the more you do this is leaving stuff at school and not waking up in the middle of the night,” Chinn said. “I say that, but I still do that quite a bit. You have to make a conscious effort when you walk out that door to leave it there. But you have to work at it. Confidentiality is so important with any of this, because in a small town you’re not going to talk to anybody about it. I still wake up at night thinking about kids a lot.”
In her three years as a counselor, Chinn has dealt with all kinds of issues — abuse, drugs, violence, teen pregnancy.
“Sometimes you think you’ve heard it all, but you haven’t,” she said. “You wish you could take everybody home with you, but you can’t. The best thing you can do is just try to help them be resilient. Sometimes you have a case with a kid that just breaks your heart, especially with elementary kids, because they’re so young. But this is something I always wanted to do, to help kids.”