If you walked into SA HSLA-Manhattan during arrival, you may see Monica Machado greeting students with a big smile and checking up with them before they head to class.
“How are you today?” “How did you sleep last night?” “How are your grades looking?”
She takes the extra time to check in with scholars because she understands how important it is to be heard, even as a young adult.
Ms. Machado has been a Social-Emotional Learning Specialist at Success Academy since 2019. For Ms. Machado, helping high school scholars navigate the inner workings of their social-emotional health and providing them with a space to feel seen and heard without judgment is what drives her daily work. “I fell in love with working with children while volunteering at a women’s shelter in the city, where I ended up spending a lot of time working with children. I saw how providing a safe space for the kids to talk through their challenges made a difference in how they felt. That is why I love doing what I get to do here.”
Seeking out mental health services may seem intimidating to some, but Ms. Machado knows that “there’s an art to counseling,” and that it’s her job to reassure scholars that her office is truly a safe space where they can come to decompress, share what’s on their mind, or celebrate their achievements. “I tell my scholars that my office is always a safe space where you will not be graded. You cannot pass or fail here. I want to hear you and your story.”
The relationships that Ms. Machado fosters do more than help her scholars in the moment. Ms. Machado is embedded in the culture of SA HSLA-MA, and her work with students continues to stand the test of time, even as our scholars graduate and go off to college. “I have a lot of scholars who will reach out and let me know how they are doing now that they are in college. I am proud to see that they are building new relationships, living on their own, and finding their footing. I always remind them that no two days will be the same, but they have the tools they learned here to get through. I really do see them turning the corner and being conscious of their weaknesses and proud of their strengths. And that makes me so happy.” Even when they have a break, many alums return to visit — some sitting outside her office talking to current scholars.
Ms. Machado will be the first to tell you that while she fills her scholars with love and positive reinforcement, she is also their accountability partner. Ms. Machado reminds scholars that counseling without work will not work, and that even though there may be many things out of their control, scholars do have choices. “We give scholars a lot of tools,” Ms Machado says. “So when they are feeling anxious or upset, I know that we need to go back over those tools and stress how important it is for the scholar to use them in those stressful or uncomfortable moments. I tell them we can always do better, and I know they can do better.”
In addition to the SEL Specialists that work with scholars, SA has also partnered with Uwill, an online teletherapy program, to provide free online counseling for scholars ages 13 and up. “SA has really prioritized scholar mental health,” says Ms. Machado.
When should scholars seek mental health support from school social-emotional specialists? To answer that question, Ms. Machado says, “It is situational. When you feel like it’s quiet but your mind is not, it is important to seek help. When there is a death in your close circle, even for a pet, it is important to seek help. If we talk about mental health and what that means early, then we normalize the ability to ask for help when we truly need it.”