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Have hope, will travel: Grasslands counselor makes her rounds

Posted on 29 September 2021 by Anna Smith, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Tracey Materi

Every day sees a different collection of students looking for help on their path to being functional adults for Tracey Materi, a traveling Wellness Mentor for Grasslands Public Schools.

The title Wellness Mentor, said Materi, is the result of a long running debate for a proper name for a job that many schools already know well.

“Lots of schools call them family school wellness or family school liaison workers,” said Materi. “We have a variety of people on our team with various training. And not everyone is qualified to do certain levels of counseling or therapy. So that’s why we’ve just gone with Wellness Worker, because you can’t legally use word counseling and things depending on what registry you’re part of.  I’m a registered social worker. So using the word counsellor is appropriate. But if you don’t have the right level of education, they’ve kind of gotten really strict on who can call themselves counselors. So that’s why we ended up going with wellness mentors.”

Materi has been with the division for eight years, but has only begun working with students one on one in the past year. 

“The majority of that time, I actually did prevention education, and spent all the time in classrooms in all 11 schools in the school division. And we would do classroom training segments, anywhere from five to 15 lessons long on things like life skills. For the last couple years, we’ve been doing Kids in the Know, which is a sexual prevention program. That helps educate kids about sexual exploitation and those kinds of things. Last year, I started doing some of that plus some one on one stuff with students. And then this year, I’m full time one on one with students.”

Materi does not provide what the government refers to as restricted services, referring to diagnosis and formal therapeutic treatment for students. Instead, she serves as what she calls “frontline support,” helping students navigate their struggles and filling a mentorship role.

“Students would be referred from a teacher or the principal, sometimes the parents, and spend time one on one,” said Materi. “So whether that’s for social skills, or if they’re struggling with some anxiety in the classroom, or ADHD, or struggling with learning disabilities. Maybe they’re having a lot of family issues at home, I’m just providing a lot of social emotional support. Or, we’ve got quite a few students who struggle with sexual identity or gender identity. There could be family violence at home. So it depends, there’s 100 reasons we might see a student. And our role is not to diagnose or provide therapeutic treatment, our role is to provide mentoring support. So you know, being there to support them, you know, help them learn some skills, you know, for kids who have a hard time, you know, regulating their emotions, working with the teachers and coming up with some strategies that work for that student, helping them to, you know, gain those skills that they can self regulate a little bit better in classrooms.”

Despite the sometimes troubling nature of the issues these children deal with, Materi said that she still loves what she does.

“Being around the kids and in the school environment is so energizing, like I love coming to work. I love spending time with them. developing relationships, there’s nothing better than when you walk into a school and you get all these smiles from kids or they see you in public, or they get excited to introduce you to their parents or they walk by your office with a big smile or run up because they want to hug like there’s just nothing better. In my opinion. Yeah, it’s very gratifying. If you love kids, working in the school is a fantastic place to be,” said Materi.

“The foundation of it all is if they feel like they’ve got some knowledge and skill that increases their confidence,” said Materi. “The whole goal is to provide them with the self esteem and the confidence to be healthy functioning adults. So they can embrace life, knowing that they’ve got some understanding and some skills that empowers them to make better choices.”

Tracey Materi

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