Kick-Starting Your School Counselor Summer Plans (#114)

If you need a boost of positive energy as you wrap up a long school year, you’ll love another engaging conversation with New Jersey Elementary School Counselor – and last year’s New Jersey School Counselor of the Year – Indra Owens. Check it out for some great resources and lots of laughter to kick-start your summer.

Inspiring School Counselors
Kick-Starting Your School Counselor Summer Plans (#114)
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About Indra Owens

Indra Owens is a former English teacher and current elementary school counselor who was recently named New Jersey’s School Counselor of the Year. She is the curator of the Trust Your Journey Project, founder of Princess Inc., a resource connector for the underserved in the Atlantic City community, and originator of The REAL Support Solutions, a “platform on social media and beyond focused on redefining mental health support in urban communities and offering mental health support and awareness and consulting in an untraditional safe space for people of color.”

Resources

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Transcript

A rough transcript follows.

Matt Fleck:
Well, it’s almost the end of the school year for most of you, so congratulations for making it through so far. I know it’s not over until it’s over. Right. So, good luck with all you have left to do, and thank you for joining us for another Inspiring School Counselor’s podcast, brought to you as always by Inspire success. I’m Matt Fleck. We were so enthused by an earlier conversation with Indra Owens, now [elementary] school counselor at Pennsylvania Avenue School in New Jersey that we had to ask her back as one of our final guests. As we wrap up the podcast and the school year, Indra and our own Aimee Portteus discuss a true variety of topics that I think you’ll enjoy. Here’s Aimee to turn us off.  

Aimee:
Where do you get all this great energy that you share with kids?

Indra:
You know, I have a 12 year old at home, so I think that she keeps my energy high. But I think that I kind of tell people too, I have like this whole Peter Pan inner theory, right. Where a lot of times when we become grownups, we kind of forget what it was to be kids.. And I think that that’s where we kind of lose the authenticity to really kind of create those connections that they need. And so, you know, I do create boundaries, so they very much know that I’m not their friend. I’m not their peer. But young at heart in a sense where I can really meet them where they are just to kind of help them get through some of the stuff that they’re going through. Because, you know, a lot of our kids, Aimee, are growing up in some really traumatic and dysfunctional environments, and I’m just being honest as a school counselor. And so if school is the only safe space or one of the only safe spaces that they have, I want to continue to be that for them.  

Aimee:
Yeah, absolutely. So besides painting and, and talking, what are other ways that you create safe spaces at school?  

Indra:
So, you know, too, um, even in either under my own brand, um, the whole Trusted Journey Project where, you know, I want to continue to redefine mental health and mindfulness in urban communities, and I really want to continue to build resilient families. Uh, I’ve come up with a, with a non-traditional or unconventional, um, counseling tool as well is called the T Cube. And it’s called, you know, you toss, you touch, you talk. And so as they come in, you know, cause the kids, they come in all throughout the day as they come in. I keep it here and before they leave, you know, I might kind of do, I might do some, some structured sessions one-on-one or in, in, in a group setting, but before they leave, I always, I throw this at them. Yeah. But whenever their hand lands, they have to answer that question and really kind of try to process and internalize it before they leave. Right. Right. And so this is the T cube and this is under my brand. And so say for instance, my left hand landed on physically, how do you feel right now? And so, you know what I mean? So it’s almost like an exit question, but it has a counseling spin. Just to kind of go a little deeper.

Aimee:
Tell me about the responses that you get from kids. Like, are they willing to do that kind of talking with you?  

Indra:
They are. You know what the biggest response that I get most of the time is that they’ll say, well, you know how I’m feeling right now before they even kind of tap into emotions, they’ll say they’re hungry.  

Aimee:
Oh, yeah.  

Indra:
I mean, I didn’t have breakfast. I’m hungry. Well, I mean, didn’t you have breakfast? Yeah, but I’m still hungry. Right? See what I’m saying? So just to meet the physical need first, you know, so what is it for me to walk with them to the cafeteria to get them another orange, get them some more graham crackers, and then, you know, now that day can start, you know?  

Aimee:
Yeah. I was always amazed by that. When I was in the field, I almost started every conversation with, are you hungry? Do you need some water? Because they couldn’t really focus on what they were talking about until they had that need met. 

Indra:
You’re absolutely right. I mean, but you know what, when you think about it, they’re little people, but whoo! I know how I get when I’m hungry!

Aimee:
<laugh>, right  

Indra:
Before we started Aimee, I’m eating a little peanut butter. Like, you know what I mean? <laugh>

Aimee:
Exactly. That’s exactly right. Well, you know, self-care has become kind of a buzzword right now, but it’s quite the center of a lot of conversations. So what, what does authentic self-care mean to you beyond feeding us or eating some peanut butter?

Indra:
First thing that I’ve been saying even to my principal, to parents, that number one, self care isn’t selfish. Right? So I think a lot of times we don’t really delve more into personal self care because we feel guilty. We take some time to ourselves. We feel guilty when we say no to things that we know we just ought to say no to. And I think that in the realm of us really, um, not creating healthy boundaries is a form of or a lack of self-care. Right?. So, I mean, just to answer your question in a simpler way, I would say we all need to get beyond the guilt of doing certain things for us. Because you can’t be the best version of Aimee if you aren’t really giving Aimee what she needs.  

Aimee:
Right.  

Indra:
And so, I know self care for me right now looks like a healthy bedtime every night. And so when people used to think that they could kind of come over and I’m not really welcoming unscheduled visits after a certain time – I’m just being honest – from friends and family. Um, I know that I just cut out all sugar.  

Aimee:  
You did?

Indra:
I did.  

Aimee:
How’s that going?  

Indra:
Listen, I’m not even drinking coffee anymore. 

Aimee:
Wow. 

Indra:
I know. Somebody told me about like, some like mushroom coffee, but, you know, I did it because I knew that I had to really change some of my nutritional habits for my own mental health. Right? I didn’t want to continue because of the work that we do. I don’t want to feel sluggish. Yeah. I don’t know. You’re probably like changing energy levels. It can’t get higher. Right?

Aimee:
I did not think that  

Indra:
Yoga and breath work is really a big part of my lifestyle, too. 

Aimee: 
Tell me a little bit more about that.  

Indra:
So I connected with the leadership studio, I would say probably about six or seven years ago now. And the director at the time, her name was Allie Nuk, kept saying to me, Indra, you know what you got going on with the Trust Your Journey Project, you really get into this. You know, I mean, getting to this yoga, getting to the meditation, and I’m not gonna front, you know, yoga was foreign to me. Right. And a lot of times in the urban community, we look at it as a white exercise or we try to, you know, put it, we pigeonhole it. And I’m thinking to myself, how crazy is that? Breath work is human, you know, that whole mind, body, soul, muscle memory, and just moving our body, that is a human thing that doesn’t have anything to do with race. Yeah. But those types of things are unfamiliar. But see, as I’m learning myself, that’s why this whole redefinition of mental health and mindfulness in urban communities is so real. Right? Because this community really needs to tap more into it.  

Aimee:
Yeah, absolutely. So do you use yoga and mindfulness with your students?  

Indra: 
I do. Yeah. Look, I keep them because a lot of times, you know, especially, you know, when they come in and they want to, our kids want to already prescribed to, you know, I got anger issues. And again, a lot of times that’s prescribed to them at home or, you know, a frustrated teacher, and then they just kind of latch onto that. And I say to them, mm-hmm Do you mind if I respectfully redirect you? And they’re like, what you got Mama Owens? You know, <laugh>? I said, it’s not hypnosis. I said, but what we are gonna do, we’re gonna meditate and we’re gonna breathe. I said, because a lot of times little people, y’all don’t get the opportunity to be quiet because, you know, our climate is so charged with technology and the electronics and all of the devices. And when they come into my office, I said, this is a safe space for you and we can be quiet. We don’t even have to talk today.  

Aimee:
Tell me why you chose to be a school counselor. What’s your why?  

Indra:
My why is, you know, I don’t really even remember the function or the role of a school counselor until I got to high school. But the person who had the greatest impact in my life was my school counselor at the high school level. Her name was Darlene Lathan. I just remember how every, can you imagine, every time you meet or meet with a certain person or just spend some time with them, they always leave you empowered. Like that feeling, like that warm fuzzy feeling inside? And that’s how I felt every time I left her office. She had a caseload of 1 million. I might have been one of maybe 300. I just always felt like I was her only student.  

Aimee:
Oh, that’s a gift. And did you get a chance to tell her how you feel about her?  

Indra:
Aimee, I talk to her almost every single day. 

Aimee:
Oh, that’s amazing. I love that!

Indra:
She’s still my counselor. Every counselor needs a counselor. <laugh>.  

Aimee:
I love that idea!

Indra:
We text all the time. I mean, she has a great relationship now with my 12 year old. Oh yeah. Like Ms. Lathan is still a very real part of my life.  

Aimee:
Oh, that’s touching. That’s wonderful. That gives us, gives us hope for the future. Right?  

Indra:
Yeah. Absolutely. Cuz you know what Aimee? I’m getting tired.  

Aimee: 
<laugh>.  

Indra:
I’m getting, I mean this whole Peter Pan inner theory thing is working for my personal morale, but you know, we get tired. I’m getting tired.  

Aimee:
Yeah, absolutely. So are you ready for the end of the school year?  

Indra:
Yes. Our end of the school year at, uh, you know how the, uh, end of the year activities go? We busy?  

Aimee:
You are very busy, I know. Well, I really appreciate everything you’ve shared with us today. And you know, we like to end our podcast with some rapid fire questions. So I’m gonna give you a couple of “would you rathers” and I just want to hear your first thoughts. Okay?  

Indra:
Okay. I like it. Different from the first one.  

Aimee:
I know it’s, well, I gotta keep it fresh.  

Indra:
You do.  

Aimee:
Would you rather go into the past and meet your ancestors or go into the future and meet your great-great grandchildren?  

Indra:
Wow.  

Aimee:
I know <laugh>.  

Indra:
I think that I would probably want to meet my great-great grandchildren. Yeah. Yeah.  

Aimee:
I would agree with that.

Indra:
Journey’s a pretty cool kid. So I’m believing that, you know, she’s gonna have a beautiful future, a great love and supportive husband and she can have a bunch of kids and I would love to meet her children. Yeah.  

Aimee:  
That’s a great dream. I love that. Would you rather have more time or more money?  

Indra:
Oh please! More money.  

Aimee:
That’s not at all what I thought you were gonna say <laugh>  

Indra:
Aimee. Well, money. 

Aimee:
Some money, right? <laugh>.  

Indra:
Yeah. It wasn’t money, Aimee.  

Aimee:
Exactly. Would you rather have a rewind button or a pause button on your life?  

Indra:
Oh man. I would say maybe rewind.  

Aimee:
What would you do if you had a rewind button? Would you go back and relive a part of your life?  

Indra:
Um, yeah. And I might not even do anything differently. I just, there’s a couple things in my past like that I’d like to just see again. 

Aimee:
Absolutely. That’s good. Would you rather be able to talk with the animals or speak all foreign languages?  

Indra:
Oh, can I say both?  

Aimee:
That is a hard one, isn’t it <laugh>?  

Indra:
I know, man. Um, I’m gonna say probably I’d like to maybe speak a whole lot of foreign languages. Yeah.  

Aimee:
That connection piece with just anybody with no barriers would be nice.  

Indra:
Absolutely.  

Aimee:
Would you rather win the lottery or live twice as long?

Indra:
Win the lottery.  

Aimee:
<laugh>. I was gonna say. 

Indra:
Yeah. Listen, that matches the more money. Please. Because I have so many plans, I just need the resources to make everything manifest.  

Aimee:
Totally. Feel that in my soul with you. <laugh>. I love talking to you. 

Indra:
I love talking to you too. Like honestly, I really do.

Aimee:
You are a beautiful advocate for school counselors everywhere. 

Indra:
Oh, thank you so much.  

Aimee:
We appreciate you so much.  

Matt:
You can find links to Indra’s Trust Your Journey Project, which is redefining mental health support and advocacy in urban communities, one child and family at a time, on our website, which is inspiresuccess.org/podcast. You’ll truly want to check it out on that same website. You’ll also find an archive of the other inspiring school counselor podcasts and the many school counselor resources that they have provided to us, again, at inspiressuccess.org/podcast. Thanks for being with us. Good luck with all of your end of the year tasks and we hope you’ll join us next time.