Northside Elementary School Counselor Chantel Click helps to bring the importance of mental health and social skills to elementary-aged children.
The school recently recognized her as the school’s Support and Wellness Employee of the Year.
Click said she visits classrooms on a rotating basis to teach students about social and emotional skills, as well as offer group counseling and short-term help.
“(For) kindergarten, I teach lessons on character traits like kindness, good judgment, grit, optimism, and I'm in there weekly,” she said. “For grades first through fifth, I'm in classes with them every other week, and we talk about things like friendship, empathy, goal setting, career and post-secondary planning.”
Northside Elementary School Principal Coretta Sharpless described Click as an educator who reminds those around her that every child deserves the excellence of education.
Click said working as an after-school counselor while she was in college led her to apply for the Masters of School Counseling Program at UNC.
“At that school where so many of the kids had every advantage in life — academically, financially — there were still a lot of social and emotional challenges that they faced,” she said. “It just kept me thinking about if these kids with all these resources still have this type of area of growth or concern, what is at the root of it and how can I be a part of helping.”
Northside Elementary School's emphasis on social and emotional learning is not a universal trait in all elementary schools. Assistant Principal Kirtina Jones said she feels elementary schools sometimes get overlooked because resources are often delegated to middle and high schools.
Sharpless said having an employee who understands emotions and the psyche within the school is very important. Sharpless added that Click also provides counsel for other staff.
“If you come in here and she doesn’t have sneakers on, that's not gonna happen because she's always running,” Jones said. “She knows that she’s needed and she’s needed in a way that honestly, I feel if they could put more social-emotional learning support into elementary schools, it would be helpful.”
Jones and Click both said they think elementary students are struggling with mental health and social development in the wake of the pandemic. Click said fostering students’ communication and social skills at the earliest age is really important, especially right now.
Click works with teachers and administrators to design programs that teach students to set goals academically and socially. She also helps families find outside mental health resources beyond the Northside community.
She said she wants to be someone that every student feels comfortable going to, whether that be for help or just as a friend.
“I always tell kids, even if you want to tell me that you got a puppy this weekend or if you're going through something like the loss of a family member – no matter what it is,” Click said. “I'm here to talk and to listen and to help problem solve.”
Click said she hopes legislators become more aware of the importance of mental health and wellness in schools. Locally, she said she hopes Northside’s impact on shaping young minds will be evident as students grow up and trickle into the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community.
“I hope that you'll see the impact that we've had here, even though sometimes we don't see the impact immediately,” she said. “I hope globally that people will be able to see the impact and say, ‘Oh, those kids came from Northside. They're making a difference'.”
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