Native Atlantan Ginger Judge shares guidance on hot topics like social media safety, conflict resolution and self-awareness for grades five through eight as the middle school counselor for The Epstein School. Utilizing mindfulness, yoga, and other therapies, she works individually with students regarding social and emotional issues like friendship challenges, anxiety, classwork organization, and meets with small groups of students experiencing similar challenges. Partnering with families is also a top priority.
Regarding social media, Judge said, “Students today face challenges that my generation, luckily, never did. If social media existed when I was a teen, I can only imagine the angst. It breaks my heart that so much of students’ energy is spent creating facades and comparing themselves to others on social media. Many blame COVID for the factual decline in mental health in teens, but this began well before 2020.
“My position is strong: social media is isolating, depressing, and anxiety provoking. As hard as it is, my advice to parents is to limit, or completely remove access to phones, computers, and technological devices outside of educational purposes. There is so much research about the negative effects of social media on teens; it’s unrealistic to stop all social media completely, which is why I use the social emotional curriculum with students. ‘Win at Social’ centers around how to help (pre)teens navigate social media.”
Judge attended Westminster High School and graduated with a bachelor’s in psychology from Emory University before earning her master’s in education with school counseling. Prior to having her two sons, she was a school counselor for Gwinnett County. At Epstein, each grade has three advisors. Ginger meets with each grade level advisor weekly to discuss academic, emotional, and social concerns. This provides weekly student insight.
Judge, along with Principal Susanna Ames, have high school advisement meetings with each eighth grader’s family. They also discuss the best high school fit for each student. The recommendations come from teacher feedback, their own observations and family priorities.
Behavioral issues with students are handled by Ames. If it is linked to emotional issues, Judge meets with the student individually. Due to Epstein’s size, students have immediate access to Judge. If they need to see her, they can send a message in Teams, email her, or pop in during lunch, recess, or snack time. If she is not available, it’s easy to schedule a time within the day or by the next morning. She furthered,
“My research and experience affirm the importance of parental support and the integral role it plays in how students feel about themselves. Our community is extremely accepting, and we welcome all students for who they are. While some families take a bit longer to accept their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity, for example, our parents are extremely supportive.
In linking Judaism to counseling, she does meditation sessions with the eighth grade during Tefillah. Those sessions are centered around the text study that Judaic studies teacher Robbie Medwed leads. Judge expounded, “I don’t believe that Jewish parents are any more protective or controlling than any other group. There’s an emphasis on succeeding, but I truly believe that is the case in most independent school families. It seems that this emphasis stems from the extraordinary competition surrounding college admissions. Parents often begin the focus on college as early as fifth grade.”
An example of a mindfulness activity is the “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 grounding technique.” The student uses this skill under distress: notice five things you see, four things you feel, three things you hear, two things you smell and one to taste. Students with severe anxiety find this helpful and carry around candy or gum for taste distraction. During the school day, Judge teaches yoga which has proven to help with stress management.
She said, “They get physically stronger while learning to control breathing and focus on themselves. Too often, our society downplays the importance of self-care. This is something I speak to my students about often.”
Judge also recently started a pilot horseback riding program. As a certified therapeutic riding instructor, Judge said,” It helps with focus, responsibility, compassion for animals, and more. I’m very aware how fortunate I am that Epstein has given me this opportunity.”