For some people, high school can be the most stressful four years of their lives. The average teenager has a lot on his or her mind—ranging from schoolwork and social activities to the journey towards self-discovery.
Luckily, St. Martin’s Episcopal School upper school students have a faculty member who can offer her support in their times of struggle, Upper School Counselor Heather Patterson.
Although Patterson just began her counseling position in the upper school this year, she isn’t a stranger to St. Martin’s. From 2000 to 2005, Patterson worked as the lower and middle school counselor, guiding the younger minds of the St. Martin’s community.
For the 2018-2019 school year, Patterson has rejoined the St. Martin’s family, but this time, she’s serving a different division.
“When I met Ms. Patterson, I immediately knew she’d be a good fit here,” said Associate Head of Upper School for Academic Affairs Tiffany DuSaules. “Her personality is very warm, friendly, and inviting. When she got to sit down with the students after she met with the committee here, they all had really positive feedback about her and had really good things to say, so I knew immediately she would be a perfect fit.”
Although Patterson has never worked with specifically high school students in this setting, she hopes to build a good counseling foundation in the upper school and to bond with the students she meets.
“One of my main goals is to get to know everybody and feel my way around, while learning my new responsibilities,” Patterson said. “I hope that I can build relationships with the students and be someone that anybody will feel comfortable with coming to talk to if they need. I want to have a completely open-door policy, and I hope to be the kind of person that students will feel comfortable reaching out to for anything they need. If it’s not counseling, then hopefully I can be the person that guides them to whatever it is that they do need instead.”
One of the most prominent changes for Patterson this year is the age difference between her former students and her new students. Previously, she worked with a wide range of students, from young children and tweens to high schoolers.
“The age span was so wide that one minute I might be working with a 5-year-old and the next I’d be with a 14-year-old,” Patterson said. “It was really different and never boring because I’d be doing so many different things. It was also kind of hard to mentally work with a student that’s really young or just of different ages and mental developments. So far, one of the differences I really like is being able to have easier conversations with high school students because you all are more articulated, and you can speak better about what’s going on and might be more insightful about what’s happening with you.”
Despite the new adjustments Patterson has made thus far, she is already beginning to have a positive impact on her students as a result of her cordial and outgoing personality, according to Junior Elyse Kann.
“She’s very inviting, so that kind of makes it easier for students to approach her,” Kann said. “When you have a personality that’s very accepting and kind, like she does, it really helps to draw people towards you. She does a good job at creating that kind of environment.”
Another change for Patterson includes tackling her position as life skills teacher, a class in which students gain practical knowledge that they can use in their future lives as adults. Students discuss real-world challenges like teen suicide and substance abuse, for example, and research and present about topics including sexually-transmitted diseases and contraceptives. In past years, students learned how to change a tire, which might come in handy if AAA can’t come to the rescue.
“I think she’s a great fit for a life skills teacher, and she’s doing an amazing job so far,” said Senior Benjamin Bone. “I remember the first couple weeks of school we decided we were going to work on resumes, and I think she did a great job of helping us in that process. She made us do research on our own to develop essential components of a strong resume. We then presented those to the class and proceeded to individually create our own resumes. I look forward to hearing her advice throughout the school year as she helps us to mature as seniors and prepare to enter the real world.”
Before Patterson’s arrival, Dr. Bill Rosenbaum served as upper school. Regrettably, he experienced health difficulties, which led to his retirement. Fortunately for the upper school, Rosenbaum and Patterson worked side by side to help the mental development of the school as a whole.
“Dr. Rosenbaum was my mentor,” Patterson said. “Working here was one of my first counseling jobs, and he kind of taught me how to do it.”
Patterson grew up in Jacksonville, Mississippi and attended Millsaps College, where she received her bachelor’s degree in philosophy and her master’s degree in counseling. Between her jobs at St. Martin’s, she was the lower and middle school counselor for Trinity Episcopal School, which strengthened her love for working in a school environment.
“I love being in a school,” Patterson said. “The school environment is so fun to me because I get to see you guys in your classes and your extracurriculars. Being involved with all that you guys are is really fun for me to be a part of. I get to do things like go to pep rallies on Fridays or sponsor a club and that kind of stuff. In a private practice, I would only get to see a sliver of a patient’s life; whereas here, I get to see you in your environment. I just love it.”