In many ways Anna looks very much like most other teenagers in middle school. She’s got torn jeans, a slightly baggy zip-up hoodie and exudes youthful and carefree enthusiasm. She also admits to the emotional upheaval that most teens her age go through; even more so during an international pandemic. What sets Anna apart from her other 8th grade peers, though, is that she is one of a group of kids who have been touched by Sound’s Middle School Support Project (MSSP), a unique program that embeds a behavioral health professional, called a Care Coordinator, onsite at the school. There are only three such schools in the Seattle Public School District: Asa Mercer International Middle School, Aki Kurose Middle School and Denny Middle School.
For Anna, the pandemic certainly did not help with her anxiety and experiencing trauma in her personal, home life. Anna says that she was feeling isolated, depressed and withdrawn before the pandemic. That was what drew her to the program in the first place in 2019. But when schools went into lockdown in March 2020, like the rest of the community, she felt even more uncertain and apprehensive, only worsening her struggles.
“During the pandemic, I began to feel kind of alone,” she says. “I definitely came in a drought; I would not do anything, I would skip (virtual) school for two months. I just could not do it, I could not go to school and felt alone in a way.”
Anna first connected with Anastasia Tschida, a Sound Care Coordinator who replaced her previous clinician at Asa Mercer Middle School, just as the pandemic began. She and Anastasia had a rapport immediately.
“Once I started talking to Anastasia, I was fully myself,” she says. “I kind of talked to her like she was my older sister; we have a really good bond,” adding “I feel like her being my counselor, really helped me.”
Tschida advised Anna to take things slowly and one day at a time, advice, she found made a difference. Anna began to gradually step back into engaging with school, and with her peers and friends. The meetings with Tschida, whether virtual, or outside and socially distanced, clearly helped Anna gradually regain her old self. In time, she began to see herself as someone who could overcome her obstacles.
“Anastasia has been helpful for being there for me,” she says. “When I have problems, I can talk about them and not bottle things up, and get mad at everybody and blame everybody else.”
Despite the pandemic’s stressors — but with Anastasia’s steady presence — Anna began to see herself as someone who could achieve something better for herself. Once she graduated this past June, Anna was enrolled to start a unique high school program, at the University of Washington, with smaller classroom sizes and focused educational support. That was a program to which Tschida encouraged her to submit an application. After she is complete with that program?
“I want to go to nursing school; I want to be a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant),” she declares with certainty. She found herself wondering, “What do I want to do in life, where do I want to be… I’m also the oldest of two younger siblings, so what example do I want to set for them?”
Through it all, Anna realizes how much Anastasia has meant to her.
“I think if I didn’t have her, I don’t know where I’d be right now,” says Anna. “I think Anastasia is proud of me because of how far I’ve become.”
The future seems bright for Anna. With obvious growth, confidence and maturity helping her along the way, she can become anything she sets out to be.
“I think that the Middle School Support Project and Sound’s support has played a really big role in supporting where Anna is today,” says Tschida.
Anna’s story will be featured in an upcoming video during Sounds’ Circle of Compassion event on Sept. 22, 2021.