If you’ve been around Denver Christian over the past few years, you may have heard us refer to the “six spheres” of a child’s development. This is a way of describing the complex network of experiences that shape a child during their formative years. Our leaders, teachers, and community pays attention to each sphere (creative/innovative, spiritual, personal, social-emotional, cognitive, and physical) and how these spheres interact with each other. We believe this approach prevents us from overlooking important aspects of growth and development. Our counseling team is an integral part of this effort. This week, we not only celebrate National School Counselors week, but the amazing work that our team does to help us reach our vision, to help our students flourish every day in every way.
Our Counseling Team at Denver Christian
We believe that a professional foundation is key to a successful counseling program. Did you know that all three of our school counselors are licensed practitioners? Tara Cater (our Middle School counselor) explains, “We are all licensed counselors (think who you would see on your own for therapy) which is uncommon for a private school.” Jen Jackson-Gustafson currently serves as our Elementary School counselor, and has been serving our school since 1999. When Ben DeNooy joined our staff in 2012, he served as our High School and Middle School Counselor. As our school continued to grow, we were able to add Tara Cater as our Middle School counselor in 2021, allowing Ben to focus on High School full-time. Having a licensed counselor serve each of our levels is unusual for a private school, but we believe it is incredibly important. Not only do each of our counselors do incredible work individually, but they are also able to collaborate together to serve the entire school community.
Our head of school, Matt Covey, says, “I think the biggest reason our counseling program is having success in helping young people develop emotional resilience and empathy is because our counseling team works well together. Jen leads the collaboration, and they generally have the same vision for what our students need.” Part of why our counselors are so gifted in building our community is because they’re a part of it! Jen is a Denver Christian graduate, and both Ben and Tara served here as interns before being hired. Jen and Ben’s children all attend Denver Christian. As Denver Christian continues to grow, there is no doubt that our counseling team will be an important part of continuing to reach our vision.
A Day in the Life of a DC Counselor
So what do counselors do in a day, or week at Denver Christian? The short answer–a lot! Our counselors often work with students one-on-one. Whether they are facing a difficult situation, struggling with a social dynamic, or perhaps trying to pick a career path, our students each have unique needs. Our counselors do an incredible job meeting students where they are at and helping them grow. They also work with small-groups and classes. Jen says that working with teachers in their classrooms and helping provide support is one of the highlights of her job.
“Teaching in the classroom is one of our favorite things to do!”Tara Cater, Middle School Counselor
For our high schoolers, approaching graduation can be exciting and daunting. Ben DeNooy not only oversees a tremendous amount of logistics involved with our high school, but also provides students with insight and resources as they navigate decisions about their future. As our high school continues to grow (see our blog introducing our career academies here) we know that this work will only continue to expand. Matt Covey explains that “I see the college and career office playing an increased role into helping our middle school and high school students live into their God-given calling, would that be a collegiate, or career pathway.”
There are also some four-legged members of our counseling department who enjoy working in small-groups and one-on-one with students! Sophie and Shiloh, the therapy dogs, are well-loved members of our community!
Members of a Professional Community
In order to serve our community well, our counselors have to be aware of what is going on outside it. They robustly network with outside Christian counselors, agencies, colleges, and other Christian school counselors in the area. As active members of their professional community, our counselors are able to continue to grow themselves, provide referrals and recommendations to Denver Christian families, and much more.
Our counseling team has also worked closely with Denver Seminary to assess our program, highlighting our strengths and ways that we can continue to grow. Jen Jackson-Gustafson explained how helpful this collaboration has been. They determined that our school is very effective–meaning we are close to fully meeting the American School Counselor Association’s standards. (In fact, one of the researchers noted that Denver Christian has less drama among the student population.) Our counseling team is able to use their insights to help us focus our efforts as we move forward.
Preparing the Next Generation of Counselors
Part of our counselors’ collaboration includes investing in the next generation of counselors. We have an internship program that partners with a variety of graduate programs, particularly Denver Seminary and CCU. For the past seventeen years, Jen Jackson-Gustafson has had a couple counselors intern with her. This year, Jen Jackson-Gustafson has had six interns. When we asked Jen what her deep hope was for the future, she said that she wants to see DC, “continue to grow in order to be recognized as a national standard for counseling programs– especially in Christian schools.”
“As I reflect on my time as an intern, I’m confident that the counseling program at DC stands as one that supports the social/emotional, academic, and career exploration of the community. It has equipped me with knowledge, skills, and inspiration to aspire to similar standards of excellent in my future endeavors.”From a recent DC Counseling Intern
This letter written by a recent grad school intern speaks to what an incredible standard our counselors are. The intern writes “I have witnessed firsthand the positive impact of their words and actions creating an atmosphere that promotes personal and academic growth for students.” They highlight that our counselors are professionals “who are not only highly skilled in their craft but also deeply committed to the development of those they serve.”
We are honored and excited to celebrate Jen, Ben, and Tara during National School Counselors’ Week. We are so thankful for the part they play in making Denver Christian a world-class program.