Leading The Way Profile

Ronan Middle School Counselor, Kristen DesJarlais Leading the Way


Kristen DesJarlais’s path to her current career took a route through Great Falls, Bozeman, Broadview, and Billings. In her role as the Ronan Middle School Counselor, Desjarlais has demonstrated innovation and commitment to her students. Working with her partners from Ronan High School, she has been instrumental in promoting positive mental health and wellness across all schools in the system. Over the last two years, this team has explored new ways of connecting students with ideas of balance and wellness. This included hosting wellness days with a volleyball tournament and interactive stations on a range of topics facilitated by community presenters. She has also taken the initiative in finding ways to foster a healthy, safe, affirming, and inclusive learning environment. Desjarlais has implemented a high level of partnership with local agencies and service providers, building a strong collaborative effort to support student success. With her enthusiasm, positive outlook, and thoughtful approach, she is truly leading the way.

Describe the work you do with families and children…

I am currently a school counselor at Ronan Middle School. As a school counselor, I wear many hats. Which includes meeting with students based on their needs, classroom lessons, programming in the school and community, as well as student academic and mental health support. To carry this off requires constant communication with families and outside agencies, learning about how I can further support students. I spend every moment with students. I always want to be a support to them and their families. 

How would you describe the most important work that needs to happen for young children?

I believe the most important work to be done with young children is increasing awareness and understanding of their brain development. Young children need co-regulation and sensory-based coping strategies to be able to regulate their emotions. Co-regulation describes the way in which adults provide warm supportive relationships to children, along with promoting self-regulation for the child with coaching, modeling, and feedback. A final component of co-regulation involves creating supportive environments. As adults, our relationship with our students is critical to emotional regulation. All students need the opportunity to make mistakes and have failures in a supportive environment. If we can normalize mental health support and regulation, students will have a better chance to understand themselves and increase their success in the classroom. 

If you could change one social factor impacting families and young children, what would it be and why?

I think I would change a family’s access to quality mental health services. Most students will only experience counseling through public education. However, public schools only provide one counselor for hundreds of students. How can we help young people navigate life and tragedy with only one person educated to do so? 

The work has many rewards-what are some of the challenges and how do you deal with them?

Many of the challenges that I deal with are centered around promoting mental health in an environment where it does not have a strong presence. Some families and staff members believe that students go to school to learn basic subjects, not to discuss feelings. Therefore, I am often met with resistance when I try to introduce social emotional learning curricula, counseling groups, etc. 

Though I am met with resistance, I continue to push for these programs. I have always believed that “just because we don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.” We have to lean into the reality that our students are emotional beings first, thinking beings second. 

I try to find connections in the right areas, with people who have influence and can help support my cause. I have wonderful administrators at Ronan Middle School who allow me to explore different ideas. 

What do you feel you personally get from working with families and children?

I honestly have the best job! I do not know what else I would be doing. I get to be with students every day and help them learn and grow. I enjoy being a support system for them and introducing real-world concepts in a way that builds resilience. My goal is to continue to elevate Ronan Middle School to a place where all students and families feel accepted and safe.

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