New part-time guidance counselor looks for student connection


BP Photo by Nettie Wolkind

AWARENESS: Mrs. Mehdizadeh will be meeting with students twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She hopes to organize mental health-related events.

By Keren Tizabi, 9th grade

Shalhevet’s new guidance counselor, Ms. Mary Johnson Mehdizadeh, found her passion for helping others after suffering from anxiety and insecurities as a teenager.

Born and raised in Birmingham, Ala., she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of North Carolina at Asheville and had thought about studying law.

But her personal experience in high school, which included struggles with anxiety and stress, led her to change direction and go into counseling instead.

“I wish I would have gone to the guidance counselor a lot more, but I think I felt afraid,” Ms. Mehdizadeh said in an interview.

“I remember looking up to the seniors and thinking that they are so big and they all have their lives figured out, and when I got to senior year, I was like, no – no, I don’t have it all figured out,” she said. “I think it’s just something that comes with the territory of just anxiety and wanting to fit in. The pressure just felt so much and I was so concerned with what other people thought.”

After battling anxiety and insecurities, she said, she knew that she wanted to help high schoolers learn to deal with their anxiety and stress so that their experience would be better than hers and that of her classmates.

“It is a stressful time when you go from middle school to high school,” said Ms. Mehdizadeh. “There is less parental involvement and higher expectations.

It is a stressful time when you go from middle school to high school. There is less parental involvement and higher expectations.

— Ms. Mehdizadeh, school counselor

“My experience was that my parents pulled back a little more and my siblings were already out of the house because they were in college, so there was just a lot of independence that I didn’t feel emotionally mature enough for. I had to try and learn organizational skills and time management, and at the time I didn’t know how to ask for help.”

While Birmingham is the largest city in Alabama, for MJ it always felt a bit small and it seemed that few people ever left the state.

“I felt that after people graduated college, a lot of them remained local and kind of all worked similar jobs,” she said. “So I wanted to branch out and explore more of my options.”

After college, she moved to New York and earned a master’s in social work from New York University. While living there, she met her husband – Dr. Omid Mehdizadeh, who happens to be a Shalhevet alumnus, who graduated in 2002.

They moved to Los Angeles, and she initially worked as a trauma consultant for teachers at LAUSD, training teachers to deal with both their own traumas and their students’ traumas.

“I really enjoyed helping the teachers and giving them the skills to work with their students,” said Ms. Mehdizadeh. “But I always longed for that connection with the students, which I could not really have in this position.”

She said she left that position to spend more time with her now 16-month-old daughter, Penelope.

Ms. Mehdizadeh enjoys playing with her daughter, reading, listening to podcasts, and working out on her Peloton.

This year one of her goals is to get to know all the students and connect with them on an individual level. She also hopes to organize more events for students and parents around the subjects of mental health and supporting students, she said.

Ms. Mehdizadeh has already started meeting with students and plans to meet with every student within the year.