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Temple students serve as counselors at charter school

Reflecting on their past experiences helps with counseling high school students.

Behrad Emami, a former classical guitar teacher, said his lessons with unprepared students at a music shop often morphed into something like a therapy session.

“They would often disclose personal concerns so the music lesson would take on a pseudo-psychotherapeutic quality,” said Emami, a 2010 classical guitar performance alumnus.

Now a second-year graduate counseling psychology student in the College of Education, Emami is one of several graduate students interning at TECH Freire Charter School as a counselor to students.

The school, on Broad Street near Susquehanna Avenue, is an offshoot of the Freire Charter high school and middle school in Center City. TECH Freire opened its doors in September 2016 to high school freshmen and sophomores.

TECH Freire is a college preparatory school like the original Freire Charter schools, but with an added emphasis on computer science and entrepreneurship education.

TECH Freire’s CEO, David Shahriari, said it is legally required that at least 60 percent of the school’s students live in Strawberry Mansion.

“We wanted to be more in the community that we were serving as opposed to bringing kids into Center City, which has its own merits and problems,” Shahriari said.

Laura McClinton, the school’s director of student and family counseling, oversees a group of interns, four of whom are counseling psychology students at Temple. Two other Temple students in the master of social work program intern for Jennifer Cadieux, the school’s 10th-grade academic adviser and director of operations.

Both groups of students fill different roles at the school, said Cadieux, who received a master’s of social work from Temple in 2007. While the social work interns provide guidance to TECH Freire on academic and social issues, the counseling psychology interns work with students who have mental health concerns.

McClinton said she wants interns to view their work as more than just a part-time job.

“What we try to do here is create an environment where they’re very much a part of our school community,” McClinton said. “We want them to be really invested in the process and jump into classrooms.”

Shahriari said Emami is valuable to TECH Freire students.

Emami was born in Iran in 1981, only two years after the Iranian Revolution and during the Iran-Iraq War. He said the period was marked by political tumult and bonding moments with his family.

“Reflecting on those years has been very productive for me … as a developing counseling psychologist,” Emami said.

Emami added that people often incorrectly think immigrants from underdeveloped countries are relieved when they arrive in the United States.

“I think students who have experienced some kind of transition, I could help them having experienced immigration myself,” he added.

Compared to Emami’s musical and cultural experiences, intern Anastasia Halbig approaches counseling from a different angle: athletics.

Halbig, also a second-year graduate counseling psychology student, was a gymnast as an undergraduate student at Rutgers University. She now works as the graduate assistant coach for the women’s gymnastics team at Temple.

Halbig said there are parallels between her work in athletics and counseling.

“I work with collegiate athletes and you find that there is a very heavy mental side to sport,” Halbig said. “So I almost feel like I’ve been [a counselor] for a while now.”

In addition to the group of counseling interns, two student organizations are planning to establish programs at TECH Freire. The Fox School of Business’ Entrepreneurial Student Association will form an entrepreneurship club at the school, Shahriari said. Another group, TU STUDY, will offer tutoring sessions to interested students beginning in March.

TU STUDY, an acronym for Students Teaching Underrepresented Developing Youth, currently conducts tutoring sessions in English, math and science at the Queen of the Universe Catholic Parish in Levittown, Pennsylvania. TU STUDY Vice President Timur Rusanov said tutors may need to develop more computer skills to assist students because of TECH Freire’s focus on technology.

“It’s interesting seeing students getting an experience I wasn’t able to in high school,” said Rusanov, a junior cellular and molecular neuroscience major. “If we find they need help with something like designing a [computer] program, I think our organization is very willing to learn … stuff that isn’t exactly school topics.”

Like Emami, Rusanov was also born outside the U.S. and emigrated from Uzbekistan when he was 5 years old. He said reflecting on his experiences of cultural transition motivates him to provide educational support for others.

“As a first-generation student, if you don’t have that initial support coming from your family or from some other resources, it’s very, very critical that there be some kind of program in your institution, whether your school or your community, that can offer you extra help,” Rusanov said. “So when I heard of this opportunity [at TECH Freire], I felt that I should contribute what I can as someone who’s been through a lot of these problems.”

Shahriari said the interns actually have the potential to be more helpful than a single full-time employee.

“One full-time employee, there’s no way you could really do any genuine work with kids because your time would just be spread too thin,” Shahriari said. “But this allows us to expand our capacity and do meaningful work.”

Ian Walker can be reached at ian.walker@temple.edu or on Twitter @ian_walker12.

CORRECTION: An article that ran Feb. 28 on Page 8 misspelled Dave Shahriari’s last name. It is Shahriari.

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