Stuyvesant’s Counseling Department Launches New Connect Groups Initiative
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With tight deadlines, constant assignments, and difficult tests, high levels of stress are commonplace for many Stuyvesant students. To combat this problem, the Stuyvesant guidance office has collaborated with Counseling in Schools, a citywide service that embeds social workers in schools, to start three Connect Groups: Connect and Destress, Connect and Create, and Cope with Crochet.
The first group is focused on discussions, while the latter two use arts and crafts activities to facilitate mental health conversations. Additionally, Connect and Destress and Connect and Create utilize a closed format, in which students will remain with the same peers throughout the year, while Cope with Crochet is more open to different participants over time.
Stuyvesant has previously hosted similar student programming, but these new connect groups were created specifically to promote student connection due to a lack of student interaction that the counseling department and social workers have identified in the past. “[The] matching with the word ‘connect’ helped to shape the offerings that we have,” Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services Casey Pedrick said. “In the past, we’ve [tailored] groups for students who had recently lost a family member or maybe groups for underclassman boys, or something along those lines. We just want students to connect. We simply want them to be able to come together in a setting where they can relate to some of the other issues that their classmates are going through, that never would have come out in another setting.”
Social isolation during the pandemic was one factor that influenced organizers to create the groups. “It’s been a couple of years since we’ve had 100 percent normal interactions with our peers, so this is a chance to [...] de-stress and connect socially over an activity. And then, if you’re able to de-stress in that activity, although that might only be 45 minutes a week, it will have ripple effects on the rest of your academic and personal lives,” Pedrick said.
The counselors also hope that these groups are an opportunity for students to spend time forming relationships in a lower-stakes environment. “We’ve wanted to have some kind of group other than clubs for a long time,” social worker and connect group manager Arleen Novarese said.
However, the groups have experienced difficulty so far in gaining substantial interest due to the packed schedules of attendees. “If you asked students, they might say they have no time,” Counseling in Schools therapist and organizer of Connect and Create and Connect and Destress Crystal Zhang said.
Organizers have also faced scheduling challenges—an inability to coordinate sessions for the few students who are interested. “We could figure out and identify 22 kids who fall into this category, but maybe only three of them have a similar period together, so that’s always a challenge at Stuyvesant for groups,” Pedrick said.
However, Pedrick also noted that participation in Connect Groups comes with value for both student well-being and college applications. “Mental health is important, and these groups are something that you can put down on an activities list for the colleges, to say that you were involved in a Connect Group for art therapy.”
Mid-January and the start of second semester marked the various kickoff dates for these Connect Groups, which measured student interest through Google Forms: 27 students expressed interest in Connect and Create, and 22 showed interest in Connect and Destress. The Cope with Crochet group has garnered the most attention, with 75 interested students. “When we put the word out for Crochet, we had [many] kids who indicated interest there, so [we’re] going to pivot a little in the format so that more groups of students have a chance to cycle through and have that experience,” Pedrick said.
At the same time, a sizable portion of the student body remains unaware of or hesitant about this initiative due to a lack of advertisement about the events. “The only one I’ve ever heard about is the crochet one. It’s just not very well-advertised,” an anonymous senior said. “[Additionally], there’s definitely this stigma [of being vulnerable] because people want to seem put together. [...] That’s kind of been preventing me from attending.”
One solution to this problem could be an increase in student ambassadorship, as the groups are currently completely managed by the counseling department. “If the Stuy Big Sibs introduce it to [freshmen] as well, I think that would be helpful,” the anonymous senior said. “If someone goes on Facebook and [says], ‘I created this nice little crochet thing. Go to Stuyvesant guidance counseling in order to make [them],’ I think it’ll do well.”
Time will tell whether or not Connect Groups will make a significant impact on the Stuyvesant community this semester, but students and counselors agree that the success of previous initiatives provides hope for this program. “The organization day [hosted by the counseling department for the past two years] was successful because it targeted a need. I feel like because a lot of Stuy[vesant] students are stressed, [Connect Groups] can succeed if [they’re] done right,” the anonymous senior said.