Meghan Giles: I Love Being in a School District Because of the Connection to Kids
Mental Health Therapist
Del Rey Woods Elementary & Monte Vista Elementary
Before she even explored public education, Mental Health Therapist Meghan Giles knew she definitely wanted to work with kids; however, at the time she only knew about teaching. “I am shy and reserved, but very comfortable and confident working with kids,” she says. When she began teaching, Meghan did not know a job existed where she could sit down and just talk to kids full time. While she enjoyed teaching, she realized that there were so many pieces to teaching and there wasn’t necessarily enough time to just sit down with students to check in with them.
Meghan joined the MPUSD team seven years ago as a student teacher at Del Rey Woods Elementary. She began teaching her own classroom at the 4th grade level at Ord Terrace Elementary for four years before learning about the mental health therapist role. I thought to myself, “How can I get a job in mental health and do it within a school system.”
Three years into the teaching profession, she found her dream job as one of 11 mental health therapists for the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and working directly with students and their families at Del Rey Woods Elementary and Monte Vista Elementary. “I love being in a school district because of the connection to kids,” says Meghan. In her role, she provides and coordinates mental health support and services to students and their families through individual and group counseling sessions and classroom presentations/interactions. She also partners closely with school staff to support the overall mental health goals of the school.
Prior to the pandemic, Meghan’s typical day included pulling students out in person and engaging in both group and individual intervention or activities. For example, for tier one students, and for students who need two or three support, she would check in to see how their day or week was going and engage them in play. In Distance Learning, she still works with students, but just in a different mode. Additionally, Meghan works closely with students and their families to establish goals and activities to support their social and emotional growth. She says, “We spend a great deal of time talking and working together, and students appreciate having that attention.” She still meets with kids in these types of forums, but primarily in a virtual format.
During COVID-19 times, Meghan still has the opportunity to engage with students in person as part of the Equine Therapy Healing Collaborative in Carmel Valley that she was instrumental in bringing to MPUSD. Eventually, she would love to see MPUSD’s work with equine therapy expanded to further support students and staff. While she pops into classes, checks in with students and completes her notes and charting each day, the biggest highlight of her day is the afternoons because she gets to meet with her kids in person for equine therapy (in a safe and healthy format, of course). Forty eight MPUSD students and three parents participate in this program districtwide, down from 55 this school year as seven students have accomplished their goals and no longer participate. The program has expanded to staff (currently 15 MPUSD team members are participating) as a medium to help them process social and emotional challenges during COVID-19. During equine therapy, students are able to disconnect from technology and be present in the moment.
For Meghan, interacting with her students brings her joy. “I love seeing them consistently every week, hearing about their lives and interests, and following up. My favorite part of the job is relationship building,” she says. For example, with one student she has been working with for three years and has seen the student grow from a third grader to a fifth grader. “It’s so cool to see the changes in the student.”
Meghan continues to be passionate about her work and MPUSD. “I love the schools and the connection with teachers. As a former teacher, I can connect and relate to them on a teaching level. Moreover, she appreciates the family oriented school sites that she is affiliated with, and credits the strong relationships and connections to district administration (Assistant Superintendent Donnie Everett and Director Aaron Wood), and teachers and administrators at the sites.