Harlingen CISD has created additional layers of support for mental health this school year with the hiring of two student wellness specialists, Angela Totman and Cathy Steadman.
In their new roles, Totman and Steadman will now be addressing the mental health and wellness of students across the district and providing educational training for parents, staff, and the community.
Totman was previously the school counselor at Wilson Elementary.
“I am excited, honored, and grateful to be in a position to offer mental health support on a larger scale than before,” Totman said. “I will be utilized as an extra layer of support in providing crisis counseling and mental health services for students in need. I will also assist in the implementation of new mental health and wellness initiatives for our district. I am extremely passionate about mental health and wellness. I believe our mental health is just as important as our physical health, and I look forward to being an extra resource for counselors, administrators, and staff across the district to address these needs.”
Steadman, previously a campus-based counselor at Cano Freshman Academy, is bringing along Levi and Piper, her emotional support dogs, to assist with counseling.
“Dogs have very strong instincts, and a lot of their abilities come through their olfactory senses,” Steadman said. “People who are highly emotional, either anxious or depressed, emit different odors, and the dogs are drawn to that. When you see me working with the dogs, you won’t see me handling them in a way that I force them to go certain places. They will lead me to people who are in emotional distress for whatever reason.”
She described the magic of the dogs that she observed when working with students at Cano.
“Students who came into the office being resistant to opening up, we would put them on a sofa in the back of the office with the dog in their lap,” Steadman said. “The rest of the world kind of melts away, the phone goes down, and they are just a student and a dog. They would open up emotionally very easily and just start talking to me. So, the dogs are a great counseling tool in that way. What might take three or four visits to get a student to open up emotionally, happened in one session.”
She further explained how each dog has a unique personality that helps to serve a different purpose.
“Piper is awesome with kids who have depression because she is a little more playful and peppy,” Steadman said. “Levi is super laid back and chill, so he is better with kids who have anxiety. He calms them. The dogs have unique purposes, and they just do an amazing job.”
Steadman expressed happiness and gratitude for the district’s focus on mental health and the opportunity to serve in this new position.
“HCISD is putting mental health at the forefront of wellness for students, parents, and staff,” Steadman said. “I feel so blessed and grateful to have this opportunity.”