School Counselor Donna Grant maintains an open-door policy, so that students know she is always available. Joining Rectory midyear in January 2022, Ms. Grant has already formed a strong bond with students while helping to grow the school's Counseling Department.
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Drawing upon many years’ experience in both youth outreach and nonprofit management, School Counselor Donna Grant provides our students with daily social and emotional support while also working to expand the resources available in our school’s Counseling Department.
Though she began with Rectory on a part-time basis in January 2022, Ms. Grant switched to full time this month, allowing her more hours not only to focus on students’ immediate needs, but also to increase student access to support. As part of that initiative, Ms. Grant has begun recruiting graduate-level interns from the social work schools of the University of Connecticut, Rhode Island College, and the University of St. Joseph.
“Counseling is an area that we are growing,” Ms. Grant said, “and I’m excited about it. As you can imagine, with middle school boarding students being away from home, some of them as young as fifth and sixth grade, these kids really do need a lot of social and emotional support. And COVID made a significant impact on our students; some of our international students have not seen their families for over two years.” Working with local colleges to develop internships at Rectory will not only increase the number of counseling hours available to students, it will also help up-and-coming counselors gain meaningful experience.
Joining Rectory midyear, Ms. Grant quickly became acclimated to the community, and it wasn’t long before students started showing up at her office.
“On a typical day, I get here at 7:30 a.m., and students are already waiting at the door,” she said. “They make their way in to say ‘good morning’ to the dogs as I unpack and get ready for the day. And then they head off to morning assembly.”
Ms. Grant tries to maintain an open-door policy, literally keeping her door propped open whenever she is not in a meeting, so that students know she is always available. “It’s important that they know that I’m not just here for the kids on my counseling schedule. I’m here for whoever is having a bad day, for whatever kid needs me.”
And while, of course, they want to meet with Ms. Grant, she knows there’s also someone else they come to see: one of the standard poodle therapy dogs or bunnies that are always at her side.
“I’ll be typing a note from my last visit, and they’ll just walk in, take the bunny out, and wait. Or they’ll hop up on the couch and wait with one of the dogs.” As a student runs their hands over the animal's soft fur, they are calmed and comforted.
A lifelong lover of animals, Ms. Grant discovered their therapeutic benefits while working on her adolescent trauma certification. “I learned that the quickest way to reach someone who is struggling with the after-effects of a trauma is through emotional regulation. So, whether it’s coloring or stroking a dog, it’s that rhythmic body movement that can get them back down to a base line where you can reach them. It makes all the sense in the world.”
Born and raised in Pomfret, Ms. Grant has always lived within three square miles of Rectory School. She raised her family—including her three grown children, a large flock of purebred sheep, horses, cattle, and canines—in Pomfret. She currently breeds and shows standard poodles, often selling puppies to families with a need for an emotional support dog. As a licensed clinical social worker, she also maintains a private therapy practice in Danielson. Before coming to Rectory, she served as the director of the Career Center at the Killingly High School, a role that involved a great deal of community outreach, as did her previous position as executive director of the Thompson Ecumenical Empowerment Group (TEEG), a social services agency for the towns of Thompson, Pomfret, and Woodstock. Early on in her career, Ms. Grant also worked at Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam in the emergency room and on labor and delivery, but left to pursue social work after becoming disillusioned by the healthcare industry. “Healthcare was becoming much less patient-focused. The paperwork was the priority. I am much more people-focused. I’ve always been motivated to work where the job was aligned with my principles. Nursing no longer felt like the right place for me, so I left nursing and went into social work.”
It was the chance to help people improve their lives that drew Ms. Grant to social work. “It really is about a hand up and not a handout. What has always interested me in all the work that I do is, how do you get people to their next best place? How do you help them find their strength and empower them to move ahead? I have loved having a career that has enabled me to help people grow.”
Upon coming to work for Rectory, Ms. Grant was thrilled to discover how much more was happening here than even she, a lifelong resident of Pomfret, ever knew.
“It’s a very insulated community that really protects the kids, so it’s interesting as a local person to come in and be a part of this and see just what amazing things are happening behind those stone walls. It’s been eye-opening to see the kids and the experiences and all that this place has to offer.”
Reflecting upon her experience at the school thus far, Ms. Grant said it is the chance it has given her to work with students from such a broad range of backgrounds that excites her the most. “It’s the opportunity to delve into diversity, to talk about the tough stuff and have courageous conversations with kids and with adults. I’ve never really had an opportunity to work with such a diverse group of people because living in northeastern Connecticut, it’s just not here. I love the diversity. I find myself challenged in some of the conversations that I’m having with the kids. As much as I think I get it and as much as I have been an advocate for issues around diversity, equity and social justice—and I’ve really made an effort to read the tough books and to understand things from a different perspective—working here with these kids continues to challenge those ideals for me. It’s rewarding and it’s thought-provoking.”
And has she been able to connect with the students at Rectory in her short time as school counselor?
“Yes, absolutely,” Ms. Grant said. “I love these kids.”
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