When a student showed guidance counsellor Ronald Facciol the bloody symbols she had carved into her arms so she could draw with her own blood, he knew he had to act fast. “This girl had to be seen,” says Ronald, a counsellor at Francis Libermann Catholic High School in Toronto. “She thought about (suicide) and had a method; as soon as a kid has a method (a counsellor) has to act upon it immediately.” He rushed the girl to the hospital where she was assessed by psychiatrists and admitted for further treatment. She later recovered and graduated from high school. That was one of Ronald’s first experiences as a guidance counsellor, 15 years ago. “I always think about her and I wonder if I’m going to hear from her,” he says. “I think that I will someday.”
Ronald and his fellow counsellors help students with everything from adding and dropping classes and university admissions to suicide and pregnancy scares. They provide refuge and guidance for even the most difficult problems.
Judi Martin, a counsellor at Sir Wilfred Laurier Collegiate Institute in Toronto, has also had to deal with extreme cases, including abuse and neglect. In one case, she returned to Toronto from a job in Oklahoma to testify on behalf of a girl who was badly abused by her boyfriend. “(The student) said that the thing that made the biggest difference in her life was that I would go to all that time and trouble to come back all the way from Oklahoma to testify on her behalf,” Judi says. “In her mind, no one else had cared enough, and she was surprised that I cared that much.”
Judi has also helped students approach their parents about difficult subjects. In one case, a gay male student came out to his parents during a counselling session, and another girl approached Judi because she was scared to tell her religious family that she was pregnant. In another situation, Judi worked with a student to help him obtain immigration documents from his home country that would allow him to work in Canada. After more than five years of trying, the student got his papers with her help.
Janice Walker, Student Services department head at Francis Libermann, also urges students to come forward if they need advice. She says conversations are always confidential unless the student or others are at risk. “When a kid comes to me, my responsibility is to discuss with them their options, all options, and to not be judgmental,” she says, “Because that’s not going to help.”
Judi says, “I like feeling that we really are partners, and the partnership is between the parents, the school and the student. (Students) shouldn’t feel that there is any topic they couldn’t bring to their guidance counsellor, because we do more than option sheets and class changes,” she says, “It’s more than just paperwork.”