Happy National School Counseling Week! We recently sat down with one of Safe and Sound’s favorite school counselors, Molly Hudgens, to shine a light on the role school counselors play in supporting student success and safety. In addition serving as a school counselor at Sycamore Middle School, Molly is a national school safety expert and speaker, and the recipient of a Congressional Medal of Honor Citizens Honor for a Single Act of Heroism.
Q: What inspired you to become a school counselor?
A: In my first year of undergrad, a friend encouraged me to take a class called “Marriage and Family.” Our professor was a mental health therapist who encouraged us to participate in activities that allowed us to practice the roles of both a counselor and a client. At the end of the semester, he encouraged me to consider becoming a therapist. In my second semester of graduate school, I took a class in child psychology that was taught by the head of the school counseling department. By that time, I was in my first year of teaching at Sycamore Middle School. He encouraged me to shift from mental health counseling to school counseling. It was the best decision I could have made.
Q: Let’s talk about peaks and pits. What do you love about your job and what are some of the challenges?
A: The peak of my job is leaving each day knowing that I have helped at least one child to make a positive choice, to focus on his or her future, or to simply leave my office feeling better than he or she did when they came in.
The pit is knowing that I cannot save everyone or change every child’s situation to be positive. It is most difficult knowing that when a child is not at school, I cannot control his or her environment or how the adults in his or her life will treat them. I struggle with “leaving it behind” when I leave school each day.
Q: Can you share an experience that you’ve had as a school counselor where you felt your background, training, and/or skill set made a difference in someone’s life?
A: While my almost twenty-four years at Sycamore Middle School have been full of experiences that have challenged and blessed me. The averted shooting at our school on September 28, 2016 will always serve as my most memorable experience. After spending almost ten years researching school shootings and acts of violence on school campuses, I created a training about recognizing red flags that I presented for educators, law enforcement, and juvenile court personnel. It was an in-depth psychological evaluation of over twenty school shooting events. This was precipitated after the shooting at Columbine that happened in my first year of teaching.
Eight years later, a fourteen-year-old armed with a semi-automatic handgun, additional ammunition, and a plan to harm people on our campus, came to me in the counseling department at our middle school. He told me that he came to me because he thought I would be the only person who could talk him out of it. It would take ninety-minutes and ultimately praying on my knees beside him before he would relinquish the gun to me with no shots fired and no lives lost.
This is a story I am blessed to share through Safe and Sound Schools with those across the country who are invested in school safety.
Q: When it comes to school safety, many people’s first thoughts are technology and security tools – tangible assets if you will. But there’s a very real, very important, very human aspect to school safety that sometimes flies under the radar. How do school counselors help shape school safety?
A: School counselors have the unique role of being a trusted adult on campus who is not viewed by most students as an authoritarian or disciplinarian figure. Students find in us a place to feel safe, to share deep hurts and trials, and to find direction when they are struggling. When students share their fears, oftentimes it involves issues that need adult intervention or mediation. Once they develop a rapport with us, they are willing to then come back and share information, concerns, and issues that are brought to their attention regarding other students. Since we know that most threats will not come from outside but rather from within, this gives us the opportunity to involve our threat assessment and safety teams to intervene with students who need our help.
Q: Any words of wisdom, words of affirmation, or final words for individuals looking to become school counselors?
A: School counseling is not for the faint of heart but rather for the big at heart. Know that going into this profession you will not always know what to say or do, but your presence alone may be all a child needs to feel safe, comforted, or supported. Know also that you will be blessed far more than you realize. Every day brings the unexpected and I love what that entails.