Little did I know when I sat down at a summer 2016 tennis match to greet an old family church friend, Villa Duckett, that she would introduce to me to Lima Central Catholic high school counselor, Sue Janowski. Several months after that simple introduction and a deep conversation about helping our young people, I was asked to keynote the May 5, 2017 highly acclaimed Positive Addiction program at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic School in Lima, Ohio. Talk about a full-circle “wow” moment. Other schools in attendance were St. Gerard, St. Rose and Lima Central Catholic.
The Positive Addiction program originated at St. Charles in 1983 by retired teachers, Mrs. Diana Ireland and Mrs. Mary Brinkman. The theme of the program is drawn from psychiatrist William Glasser’s theory of positive addiction. Dr. Glasser promoted the idea of wholesome addiction as opposed to the negative addiction of drugs and alcohol. The St. Charles Positive Addiction program was copyrighted in 1984, and in May of 1988, it received national attention by then First Lady Nancy Reagan. The week-long program includes workshops focusing on careers, self-image, and relationships with others, and always concludes with a keynote address by a celebrity whose lifestyle shows how maintaining a positive lifestyle has enhanced his or her life. (Learn more here).
I found out that one of my all-time track idols, world-record holding Olympic champion, Wilma Rudolph, was a previous Positive Addiction’s speaker. Now that is a celebrity. While I would not necessarily call myself a celebrity, I agree that like Wilma Rudolph, my positive lifestyle enhanced my life. The same can be true for every child who adopts a positive lifestyle, regardless of their background, life-circumstances or challenges.
When I concluded my talk, I certainly felt like a celebrity. The students swarmed me, gave me hugs, smiled, asked to take pictures with me and were so appreciative of a truthful message, filled with adversity, challenges, trauma, authenticity, resiliency, grit, and hope. Of course I wanted to take them home and have a slumber party! Lima Central Catholic Senior, Zahirah Hodges wrote on her Facebook page, “Thank you, where have you been all of my life … it is funny how you meet someone and you feel like you already know them.” Honestly, Zahirah reminds me of me when I was her age. I always wished someone like myself were around when I was her age. Well, that was then and this is now. My work shall continue, for all the Zahirah’s in the world.
The fact is, I cannot do this work by myself. The Positive Addiction Program’s theme and methodology simply affirmed my belief that I need to focus my work on school counselors. My hope is that every school counselor in the United States considers adopting programming like the Positive Addiction program, at their school. I also hope that school counselors will continue to rise up, that school administration will recognize and use their amazing training, skills and ability to lead in this area, and that they be advocates for the emotional and social development of our youth in their schools, just as Ms. Ireland and Ms. Brinkman did.
Our youth are hungry for truthful, transparent, real-life, straight-talk conversations. They see a lot and have endured a lot; due in large part to the onset of social media. We need a revolution - a revival of sorts, in our schools. I am confident that school counselors can lead the charge. I believe in you, school counselors and I am here to help you along the way.
Perhaps the following tips will help you stand up to the challenge:
Listen. Listen. Listen. Continue to create safe spaces and times during the school day and during the school year to have conversations about challenging topics. Create a culture of care, love, and empathy right there at your school. This takes time, but it starts with listening. Perhaps you too could create a Positive Addiction week at your school.
As you create a culture of listening, empathy, care and love, you must remove any trepidation you may have to directly address social issues that may make you feel uncomfortable. You are the student’s advocate. In some cases, you are their only positive hope. Once a student trusts you, they have expectations that you will do something to help them. Teach your school staff (teachers, principals, and administrative staff) how to do the same. Always have the best interest of the child/student at the foundation of your reason for taking action.
Remember your own self-care and create a BAMP-it practice – that is Breathing, Affirmations, Mediation, and Prayer. You can only make a difference if you are of sound mind and vibrant. Set an alarm during the day for two-five minute increments. That’s ten minutes total throughout your day to breathe deeply, say a few affirmations to yourself, and sit quietly to mediate. This simple practice will help you go into the fires of life and not be burned. We need you alive and well to do this life-changing work.
Soldier on School Counselors!
Diana Patton is a Speaker, Social Justice and Integrative Health Advocacy Coach, Author and Attorney. Learn more about her by visiting her website, clicking here to read a free chapter of her book, Inspiration in My Shoes or read more of her articles, here.