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Cambridge City Schools News Article

Student Support Liaisons Create Safe Spaces for Students

Student support liaison is a position title that may generate more questions about what the job entails than other positions within a school district. But in reality, the general title is pretty accurate as the two student support liaisons in the Cambridge City School District do not have a limited or specific job description.

Casey McVicker at the High School and Heather Roberston at the Middle School, have a broad array and what appears to be an ever-growing list of responsibilities.

While the job description includes tasks like coordinating services, scheduling meetings, and facilitating the completion of paperwork, most of what they do could fall under that all-inclusive phrase, “other duties as assigned.”

“Anything I can think of to help a student be successful is basically my job,” Robertson said.

“We have to assist our students navigate stressors in their life,” McVicker added.

Those stressors come in many shapes and sizes. Often, students who are struggling academically are struggling because of other issues or are experiencing other stressors in their lives.

The stressor might be as easy to recognize and address as hunger or a physical health issue like a tooth ache. Unfortunately, stressors often fall under the umbrella of mental health.

Anxiety is a big stressor especially at the Middle School where students encounter several significant changes and new experiences. For example, sixth graders may experience anxiety induced by the transition to a new school.

“Sixth graders go from one teacher to six, from having someone explain how to organize everything to having to organize themselves, and from walking in a line to their next class to walking on their own to their next class,” Robertson said. “There is a lot of additional responsibility, and they stress out because they don’t know how to do something.”

Middle School students also are exposed to new experiences and drama that they never encountered before, like dating. They struggle with situational conversations and knowing what appropriate behavior is and what is not.

They also are learning to navigate the differences between teachers and what different teachers expect.

A new building also causes stress for freshmen attending the High School for the first time, especially during a pandemic.

“A student may be transitioning to a new building and maybe they even did remote learning last year. This year, they attend classes for a couple of weeks and then they may be quarantined,” McVicker explains. “They may go from using Google Classroom during quarantine and then they transition back into the building and sometimes they are quarantined again.

“The adjustment and the back-and-forth for not just our students but for students in districts all over the country is adding another layer of stress,” McVicker added. “Additionally, families have been pushed to their max since the start of the pandemic. Oftentimes it is difficult for students to find that safe release and outlet to express their emotions and feelings.”

Anecdotally, school counselors and student support liaisons have seen an increase in abuse and neglect of students at home and an increase in students abusing drugs and other substances (like vapes). Of course, all these unhealthy behaviors and experiences can increase anxiety.

“When a student presents with anxiety, we go over the physical first: did they eat breakfast, is there a change in their sleep patterns? Are they hydrated? Do they smoke or vape outside of school?”  McVicker said.

It is a list of questions that helps students understand what other factors may also be contributing to their increased anxiety presenting symptoms.

With parent consent, McVicker can arrange for a student to talk with a licensed mental health or substance abuse professional who can address any mental, emotional or substance abuse needs students may have.

The recharge room at CHS is also available for students who need a calm, quiet space to work on coping skills or to self-regulate their emotions outside of the classroom setting.

“This was one of the initiatives we took on when I was first hired,” McVicker said. “We knew there was a need for this space for our students.”

McVicker also co-facilitates BOTVIN life skills groups on Mondays during lunch periods and offers assistance for identified McKinney Vento (homeless) students and families at CHS.

At the Middle School, Robertson has created several groups to help students. She is involved with study groups where students who are struggling can get extra academic help, learn study skills, and understand how learning in middle school is different than learning in elementary school.

She also provides “fidgets” for students who need a quiet distraction or way to distress while they are in class.
She organized a “Good Morning, Sunshine” girls’ group which meets on Monday mornings to touch base with female students who may need support or help with their coping skills.

There is also a Spark Plug group where students can talk about what sparks their fire and share what they are passionate about. They also address goal setting and learn organization skills that may help them reach those goals.

“They know this is a safe space,” Robertson said. “They know they can come in here and tell me serious stuff in confidence.”
McVicker and the rest of the student support team that includes school counselors, also created a safe space at the High School and gained the trust of the students.

“We have created a culture and an atmosphere here in the building that students feel safe to come and talk with us,” McVicker said. “They want help, and they want support and services, and they are coming to us because they know we are going to provide that to them.”
Providing help and support makes that student support liaison job title extremely broad.

Food Insecurity Grant Awarded
The United Way of Guernsey, Monroe and Noble Counties awarded Cambridge High School with a Southwestern Energy Food Insecurity Grant in the amount of $2,500 this fall.

Casey McVicker, Student Support Liaison at the High School applied for the grant with a specific request for $1,700 worth of shelf stable products that are being distributed to students from the Bobcat Store, a store that is organized and run by teacher Maria Armes and the cross categorical class students.

“When we applied for the grant, we listed all of the shelf stable meals and food items we wanted to buy,” McVicker said. “They awarded more than we requested, and we are so grateful.”

The need is there especially for items that can be taken home and fixed easily by students.

“We purchase items that do not require extra ingredients like macaroni and cheese cups or other microwavable meals,” McVicker added.
McVicker pointed out that the items are free, even though they come from the Bobcat “store.” The Bobcat Store also has clothing items, hygiene products, shoes, and other household necessities available.

McVicker hopes the program can be expanded in the future.



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