Students holding hands

Counselor uses expertise and experience to help students heal from tragedy

When a crisis unfolds, a variety of services are needed to monitor and manage the situation. However, after immediate threats subside, a different type of support is needed to help individuals who were affected cope with the aftermath. This was the role – one of consolation, support and aid – that City University of Seattle alumnus Josh Webb assumed when a team he was on responded to Marysville Pilchuck High School after the tragic school shooting on October 24, 2014. In the face of that tragedy, Webb was able to draw upon his first hand-experience and expertise as a school counselor to help students process their grief and trauma.

“I was working at Edmonds School District at the time as an intervention specialist, and I had received specialized training on crisis response, so I had experience assisting schools with the recovery following student death,” Webb said. “On October 24, 2014 I got the call and went with the team that supported the students and was involved with recovery.”

Shortly after, Webb accepted a school counselor position at Marysville-Pilchuck High School.

“I was a school counselor for the year after the shooting and assisted students and parents and worked with mental health counselors to organize grief support groups,” Webb said. “We also had multi-discipline meetings to screen and respond to at-risk students.”

He was able to pull from his 10 years of experience and knowledge gained from the Master of Education in Guidance and Counseling program he completed at CityU.

“The skills that school counselors learn are very helpful – we collect data and when something happens everyone is affected differently and it depends on their own vulnerability and risk factors,” Webb said. “Through data collection we were able to screen kids in an effective way. We also did group counseling – it’s a class that’s part of the program at CityU. I helped write a grief and loss curriculum and we held a group for students who lost friends.”

Increasing support and resources for others

Today, Webb is the director of counseling for the Marysville School District, a role that gives him the opportunity to work with schools throughout the district.

“Trauma affects all the schools, not just the one where the shooting happened,” Webb said. “There are 31 school counselors in our district, and I work with them and provide leadership and support.”

Much of his time now is spent sharing his knowledge and experiences with others.

“My days are all over the place; I meet with community partners that are providing services to schools, meet with school leadership to make sure we’re collaborating, and I occasionally get calls about high-risk situations and am asked to provide consultations,” Webb said. “I also do a lot of trainings on topics like how schools can become trauma informed schools, motivational interviewing for educators and the school crisis prevention model PREPaRE.”

The more experience he gains, the more he is motivated to share it to benefit other schools and professionals.

“I’ve been tapped to help with subsequent tragedies at other schools,” Webb said. “They have contacted me for consultation and had the privilege to offer national-level consultations.”

Through it all, helping to positively impact the lives of students and improve their opportunities is what motivates him.

“Seeing students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds – education can be a saving grace for them,” Webb said. “Traumatized parents raise traumatized kids and it is a cycle that can be broken through education.”

His desire is for his work to provide a solid foundation for continued growth.

“My goal has been to create sustainable resources,” Webb said. “A lot of times you’ll have a tragedy and people come in and provide support for a year or two, but how can you take resources and make them continue on to make a difference in the school culture and community? By training our school counseling staff and developing an integrated school behavioral health system we’re creating lasting resources that are sustainable.”

The drive to leave a lasting impact is just one more way he is paying it forward.

“I have to mention Karen Toler,” Webb said. “She was one of the main faculty in the guidance and counseling program. Her training on counseling theories and practice helped get me where I am.”

Having learned a great deal himself, Webb plans to continue sharing his knowledge with others.

“Being able to work with training other educators and counselors has been very fulfilling for me,” Webb said. “I found a skill I have and I’d like to continue using it.”

Counselors’ jobs are to provide guidance, support and services to students who need them. Not only is Webb doing that himself, but he is equipping colleagues with the tools and resources needed to do it, too.