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‘Someone Has Your Back’: Inside BHS Intervention Counseling


In the seventh grade, Alaya Alexander was pulled out of class one day to speak with an intervention counselor. Over the next several years, even as she began high school, she engaged in regular meetings with her counselor, who offered both emotional and academic support. Now a sophomore in Academy of Medicine and Public Service (AMPS), her meetings are still consistent. Alexander is just one of over 300 Berkeley High School (BHS) students who have greatly benefited from Intervention Counseling (IC).

The three intervention counselors, Nashwa Emam, Jasdeep Malhi, and Jessie Levin, work to support the 100 new students each year who are chosen by middle school counselors. Each student that enters the program stays with them all four years, checking in once a month — or more, if needed — throughout their time at BHS.

Why exactly is intervention counseling so helpful? According to Alexander, intervention counseling helps to “[deal] with things that you can’t deal with alone.”

On top of that, IC counselors collaborate with the broader community as well as the Restorative Justice program in a mediation if one of their students is involved. The connection between the two programs is strong because they previously worked together in On Campus Intervention (OCI). The two systems also help each other due to the lack of staff working in these programs, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.

The program has significantly helped Alexander. Each student can speak with one of the three counselors to be there “to talk to or talk through certain things.”

Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA) senior Ashanty Moreno-Silva used intervention counseling all four years of high school.

“[Malhi] being there was so great for me because I finally had an adult I could talk to, and it made me stronger,” Moreno-Silva said. “I’m not as emotionally messed-up as I used to be because of her … She never told me that she was annoyed with me and never told me to get out, which is something that adults have done in the past.”

Communications Arts and Sciences (CAS) junior Sofia Rico believes one of the best parts of the program is that it’s confidential. According to Rico, the program is extremely welcoming to its student body and each counselor makes a huge time commitment to look out for their students.

“I love it because I know that that person isn’t going to run away and tell somebody something or tell my family something,” Rico said.

Another large part of supporting students is academics. “Academically, you could go to any academic counselor and they keep you on track with your work, make you look through everything, so for me, that’s very helpful,” said Alexander. The program also annually takes its juniors to the College and Career Center to do a college presentation and set up their meetings with counselors before the rest of the school gets access.

The main objective of intervention counseling is getting “every student to graduate,” according to Emam. This goal is achieved in many different methods, including reviewing work and checking in on each student. Counselors can also get in touch with teachers and update them with a student’s perspective and what they may be going through. This helps them realize that “this is serious, this isn’t some [stuff] that this kid is making up, this is actually a problem that is going on,” said Moreno-Silva.

Moreover, Intervention Counseling often offers career and college exploration field trips, as well as streamlines its students into community college classes to make sure a student can achieve their dreams. Inspired by her own counselor, Moreno-Silvia is pushing herself to become a therapist and just recently applied to both the University of California (UC) Berkeley and Stanford University.

“We’ve taken students whale-watching to support marine biology, or taken students to Google, and [we have] done a tour there and met with staff members to learn about fields in computer science,” Emam said. “We change the field trips every year based on what students are interested in.” These features push students to pursue their interests and look towards their futures.

Intervention counseling can also change a student’s view on school. For Rico, the program motivated her to attend school with a more positive outlook.

“Honestly, I’ve never been the type of person to really enjoy school,” Rico said. “But ever since I’ve been meeting with Ms. Jessie, I almost look forward to coming to school, especially when I have my appointments with her.”

Focusing on the students, the minimal staff members of the intervention counseling system intend to keep students moving forward in high school. “The best part is knowing that someone has your back,” Alexander said. “If you have the opportunity to have counseling, even if it’s outside of school, I would definitely go for it, especially if you feel like you need it.”