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NVHS intervention specialist available to all students

Tracee Smith came to Nooksack Valley High School for the 2018-19 school year excited to connect with students and staff while providing an important service as the school’s new intervention prevention specialist.

“The staff is amazing, I am so impressed,” she says. “They have been very welcoming, and everyone is so supportive. They are grateful I am here, and I feel it has gone really well.”

Teachers aren’t the only ones grateful for the addition of Smith. Students have gained a needed resource as well.

Smith’s role includes providing prevention education for students while also offering free chemical dependency assessments and treatments for those in need. She teaches all freshmen once per week in a six-week series on prevention intervention that comes as part of the health class. Smith offers confidential counseling for students affected in any way by alcohol, tobacco or drugs.

“They could be living with people using drugs or alcohol or perhaps they have a family member incarcerated” Smith says. “My role is to listen, suggest plans and create goals of how they are going to deal with it.”

Throughout the year, Smith also works with teachers to check in on students and see if specific students, as referred by teachers, have needs she can help with in any way. “If a child is dealing with outside stress they are not going to learn as well,” she says. “We need to tease out if there are any issues going on and if we can provide any support.”

Starting fresh last fall, Smith says there were some hurdles to overcome because similar positions have come and gone in the past at Nooksack Valley High School. She continues to work to create consistency and create a continuous message to students and teachers. Having teachers understand the referral system has helped the process, but getting students to trust a counselor is always a challenge. With her role as a drug and alcohol counselor, there are different confidentiality rules about her work that give the students some assurances they can speak freely. “The students can open up to me in a different way,” she says. “It gives them permission to talk about substance use in an open way and gives me an opportunity to counter with the education piece.”

Moving forward, Smith expects to continue to build on what she’s already created during this first year at Nooksack Valley High School (she previously worked for Catholic Community Services in its recovery outpatient facility).

Smith wants to create a newsletter to keep parents informed about services, build a prevention club so students can help change the attitudes and perception about drug and alcohol use by encouraging positive activities and she aims to offer group therapy opportunities for students living with alcoholic parents or for students struggling with self-harming.

“There is power in that peer contact with each other,” she says. “Building the trust is where we are at and encouraging the students to be comfortable. We are talking about a lot of taboo topics.” But getting that conversation going can lead to positive results for students at Nooksack Valley.