“I feel like I belong!”

Isn’t so important to feel like we have a place and sense of purpose in this world? Isn’t it easier when you fit in and are accepted for who you are? Don’t we all want to be liked and appreciated? A sense of belonging is vital at all stages, yet many times is undervalued.

I know there are some teachers who believe school is a place to learn, “not play”. I’ve heard it before. And, of course, the pressure to learn couldn’t be higher. Achieve, grow, achieve! Yes, we do all want smart kids but we also need to value the social/emotional growth as much, if not more, than the academics. And, I’m afraid we are losing sight of common sense when we have blinders on the standards that must be taught and test scores that must be reached.

This week, I was reminded of this during a sweet lunch group. Since there’s no other time that a counselor can conduct a small group due to academic time, I hold my small groups for upper elementary students during lunch which is not uncommon. For many School Counselors, it’s get creative with your time or you won’t be having those groups. So, like others, I make it work.

At the beginning of the year, I like to offer small groups to new students. Yes, we are meeting School Counseling standards and have objectives each group.  We practice I-messages, conflict-resolution, goal-setting, and self-awareness skills while also cramming food down our throats. But, it’s also fun. It’s a break from the cafeteria and I have kids asking to come every week. The ultimate goal is to make them feel special, included, and important. And, this week, I was reminded of why I do this.

There are only a few girls that come with me on Tuesdays. They are all new and in different classes, and they are just so sweet. I have learned so much about them in the past 4 weeks. I’ve heard about their last school. I know what their uniforms looked like. I have learned about two girls’ adoption stories, and heard stories about their orphanage. And, then I give them an M&M or two at the end of the group! (It’s the little things….or are they so little?)

We set goals a couple meetings in. All of the girls wanted to make all A’s and B’s on their interim report card, not an easy task for 3rd grade, just having moved, and being new. But, they all did it! So, in return, they got to choose a ‘prize’ from my prize can. At the last minute, though, I remembered I had some old, unused school t-shirts that the former PTO president gave me stored in the cabinet. I gave the girls the t-shirts as an option too. When I explained that these are the old school t-shirts, two of them jumped at that idea!

One of the pretty little girls, who looks like the perfect American school girl, was so excited that she immediately threw the t-shirt over her outfit to wear for the rest of the day. And, what she said next made me smile. When she got that blue t-shirt over her head and proudly looked down, she said, “I feel like I belong!” Wearing a shirt that her classmates had purchased the year before, a school shirt, made her day. She fit in. Kids want to fit in. She was a part of a bigger picture. The other girl followed suit and also pulled the shirt over her head.

The following day, I was at that school again. And, there she came, walking along with a bow in her bouncy ponytail and that new (old) blue t-shirt. She was proud. She fits in.

So, when I get push back from teachers for their students missing class time, which happens often, or I feel like no one knows what I do or cares, I remember simple statements like that. Like most things, there should be balance. Yes, make the most of school time and expand those minds. But, we also must remember the life skills that will get us those relationships and jobs.  In school, at our homes, in our neighborhoods, it’s kind to make people feel like they belong. It’s important. And, I guarantee she will remember that shirt this week a lot more than her math lesson.



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