Rachel Hecht, who started counseling program and removed its stigma, will not return next year


Honor Fuchs

ACCESSIBLE: Rachel Hecht, in her second-floor office, spends a lot of her time in one-on-one meetings.

Rachel Hecht, Shalhevet’s first guidance counselor, who has brought emotional anti-drinking and driving safety programs to school and meets with students one-on-one about personal issues, will not be returning next year.  

She entered Shalhevet in 2008, and ever since then has held office hours with individual students while bringing big social issues to the attention of the school with special programs and assemblies.

When she first started, school officials feared students would be embarrassed to be seen in her office, so she was located in a room in the old building’s annex, near an emergency exit at the end of a far hallway.  

That did not remain a problem for long. She was moved first to the basement of the old building, which was closer than the annex, and 2012 had an office just off the foyer of the school.

In the new building, her office is lively and centrally located, right beside the main hallway on the second floor.

One of Ms. Hecht’s first big challenges was the immediate aftermath of the lower school’s closing in March, 2010. She called in a crisis team and helped to prepare the faculty for the next day, which was “complete mayhem,” Ms. Hecht recalled in an interview this week.

She described giving huge groups of students the opportunity to just cry and talk about their emotions that day, as they faced the reality of saying goodbye to one school and having to find another overnight.

“It was heart-breaking,” she said.

The crisis team came from Aleinu, a family counseling resource center a part of Jewish Family Services (JFS), which was actually where Shalhevet found Ms. Hecht. She was working at their clinic full time and Shalhevet part-time until 2011, when her hours at Shalhevet increased.

Shalhevet’s search for its first counselor was instigated by a student. Alumna Elana Eden ‘09 began advocating for a counselor in her junior year, and then-General Studies Principal Mr. Phu Tranchi invited her to meet with him and Rabbi Weinbach about it.

“I just thought that a lot of students were dealing with things that are really difficult for people of any age to deal with,” Elana told the Boiling Point in an interview last week. “But particularly when you’re younger and still figuring things out, and especially when your life is structured by school, it’s really important to have someone on staff at the school who can be supportive.”

In addition to major life upheavals at home or with friends, Elana said, it’s important even to discuss day-to-day things that happen at school, “that are easy to see as not a big deal, but are actually really important.”

Ms. Hecht said conversations like those, which she has with students just in passing or in her office, have been the most impactful.

“I think adolescence in general is such a challenging time,” said Ms. Hecht. “And they always say ‘Be what you wish you had,’ and I know that having someone to talk to is super powerful, and I know that might not be a super-powerful thing to say.  But being able to process the things that you’re going through with somebody is important and everybody should have somebody like that.”

Head of School Rabbi Ari Segal said the school would keep the program going.

“Life is complicated for teens,” Rabbi Segal said in an interview. “And I think we have people in the school who focus on so many areas of student well-being, and we hope everyone cares about the emotional needs of the students, but it’s important to have one person dedicated to that.”

He said Ms. Hecht would be replaced by two counselors, one full time and one part-time.

During her nine years here, Ms. Hecht was involved in daily student life in a myriad of ways. In 2012, the Boiling Point unwittingly reported a false story, confirming a rumor that there would be random drug testing in school. It was just a ruse to set up the breakout of Color War, but the administration, including Ms. Hecht, confirmed the rumor with Boiling Point and students who came to her office.

She said later that she didn’t want to ruin Color War breakout for the Student Activities Committee (SAC).  But the swarm of students who came to her office concerned about the supposed testing made for an “incredibly uncomfortable day,” she said at the time.

The incident had a major silver lining, she said, reminiscing about it five years later. She realized then that her office had become a really welcoming, comfortable environment, where kids could just hang out. That’s where some of the best conversations occur.  

“Any conversation has a moment for teaching,” said Ms. Hecht. “Any conversation has a moment for empowerment.”

Now, her space, which is also near the Educational Support and College Counseling office has a warm and open atmosphere.

The stigma that had been there at the beginning due to the location of her office and the newness of the position of a counselor in the school has completely evaporated.

“If you’re walking past my office on the way to class you can just stop in and say ‘Hey, I just had this experience,’ and I love that that stigma no longer exists.”