Little Moments, Big Impact in Student Health Services
By Jerome Pressley, MHS Senior Division Psychotherapist
As a psychotherapist at Milton Hershey School, my role is to assist students by providing therapy. As a psychology department, we care for students’ mental health needs. We also provide 24-hour coverage, and we rotate that coverage among staff members.
MHS students come from a variety of different backgrounds, and they often experience homesickness since we are a residential school. They also come with troubles they may have had from home that they are trying to work through. All of our students want to do well, so our role in Student Health Services is to assist them in getting there.
Student Health Services is a great team. We work with dental, medical, social work, behavioral services, and psychology. Our goal is to focus on the entirety of the student’s well-being – their mental, physical, and emotional health. That is what Milton and Catherine Hershey wanted when they founded the school. We are continuing their legacy of the entire child by making sure each student has all the tools they need to be successful in life. We work in tandem with the students, and it’s definitely something that feels like you’re making a difference.
Within psychology, we all have different strengths and backgrounds that help us in our roles at MHS. Some have written books, developed trainings, and have become experts in a variety of areas of mental health. Some are doctors. We all teach each other and learn from each other. We can support each other through various situations so we can become our greatest selves to help our students.
I have been at MHS for more than 20 years, and it’s more than a job. It’s about how much you give to the job itself. I was formerly a case manager in the Harrisburg area. One day, I saw an ad in the paper for a position in behavioral services at MHS. After researching more about the job and the school, I realized how I could use my own 12-year experience attending a residential school myself at Scotland School for Veterans Children to make an impact in students’ lives at MHS. Along with my education and work experience in the community, I applied to MHS, and here I am today.
I rarely talk about my residential living experience with our students because their experience here is unique to MHS. Instead, I lean on my personal experiences for opportunities to relate to them when I can. I never want to overshadow what they are going through or their individual MHS experience.
I had the opportunity to work with some of our elementary and middle school students since I arrived at MHS. Now many of the students I worked with in Elementary Division have graduated. When I saw them when they reached high school, they talked about their experiences growing up at MHS, and I often realize, “Wow, I had an impact on them.”
As therapists, we always remember students we work with, but we don’t always hear or know how we made a difference in their lives. That’s not a bad thing. That means we’ve helped them with what they need to begin their trajectory toward success.
I had one young alum recently send me a letter and a gift. It was a special surprise. What made it so special was the former student talked about what it meant to have me in their life and support them. It made me emotional, and it touched me at the core. It helped me understand why I do what I do. We don’t look for praise. It’s the little things that are enough – seeing a student graduate from counseling, getting all A’s, or earning all of their Continuing Education Scholarship.
There’s nothing more rewarding to me than seeing our students graduate. To watch them get their diploma and class ring, and then begin young adulthood beyond MHS is a great feeling.
When I look at our students and our Class of 2020 alumni, I begin to think more about the impact I can make. These students and young alumni have never experienced this level of a pandemic while attending MHS. They are living away from home and the challenges they face have a greater impact on them. I think it’s imperative we try our best to understand where our students are coming from because this pandemic is everywhere. It’s the entire country, and our students come from all different parts of the country. It’s important for us as staff to recognize that as we work with them, now and always.