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by Sylvia B. Bodell

Your North Texas Giving Day gifts make counseling and assessments available in West Dallas

West Dallas Community School was founded in 1995 to serve one of the most underserved areas in Dallas. They instill the belief "where you begin should never determine how far you can go."

At The Center for Integrative Counseling and Psychology, we couldn't agree more. That's why West Dallas Community School is a PACT program partner. PACT stands for Partnerships for Accessible Counseling and Training. It removes barriers and makes professional counseling and psychological assessments available to all.

"West Dallas Community School is abundantly thankful for the services The Center has provided us these last few years," said Sam Turner, Principal, West Dallas Community School. As a school operating with a calling to care for the emotional, spiritual, and educational needs of our students in West Dallas, our partnership with The Center has been vital for supporting the education and growth of our students.

"The Center has provided a wonderful counselor, Alicia Villa, who works directly with our students and teachers to handle the many psychological and emotional issues that arise in the everyday lives of our students and classrooms. Alicia’s bilingual ability and her kind and persistent presence has allowed us to break down some of the stigma that families have had against sending their children to a counselor, and her work has already made a lasting impact on many of our students' lives."


Diagnosing dyslexia and gaining confidence
John* distinctly remembers the feeling of his racing heart every time he took a test. As a 12-year-old, he didn’t understand why he was feeling this way or how it started – but during the pandemic many things were different.

John’s teacher noticed that whenever he took a test his body would tense up and freeze. He was experiencing severe test anxiety.

“I began seeing John in counseling in October 2020 and continued seeing him through June 2021. We had weekly 45-minute sessions,” said Alicia Villa, MS, LPC-A, a bilingual therapist with The Center who provides counseling at West Dallas Community School. “He had severe test anxiety and was anxious in social situations.

“At one point, John was close to failing because his test anxiety was so severe he would shut down. Because we provide counseling onsite, I worked with his teacher and was able to have him take tests in my office away from noises and classmates. It helped him gain confidence and increase his class average.

“I provided psychoeducation regarding anxiety and the cycle of anxiety. He participated in mindfulness and grounding exercises. He used deep breathing to ground himself and developed skills for self-awareness and social awareness. He also found support from his family.

“We also worked on assertive communication and advocating for himself. He was awfully shy and was afraid to speak up, even with his family. But toward the end of the summer, he was more interactive with his mom and dad. His mom shared that she noticed a change in his communication.

“Most importantly, we recommended that John be tested for a learning disorder and it came back that he has dyslexia. John and his parents were open to learning about dyslexia and how to best meet his needs. This also helped him understand why he was having a hard time in class.

“Today John is passing all his classes and has not needed any other accommodations to help with tests or homework. He passed onto the next grade and appears to be more social and interacts with peers.

“I’m grateful John’s teacher advocated for him and was able to get him into counseling and proud of John for his hard work in counseling and his desire to grow.

“Without counseling, John might not have passed to the next grade and his dyslexia would have gone undiagnosed.

“Through counseling, John was able to gain insight and develop healthy coping skills to deal with his anxiety. John enjoyed being able to express himself in his native language (Spanish) and learned about how anxiety is regarded within his culture. John was able to explore and learn what anxiety is and how it is represented in his body. Last summer, he continued his counseling journey and reflected on his growth. John was able to overpower his anxiety and successfully moved onto the next grade.”

"Alicia’s care and the support The Center provides for our school is evident in the way she greets our students at the school’s entrance in the morning, the extra training she received to work with our students who have faced trauma, and the excellent testing that The Center has provided our students for free," concluded Mr. Turner. "Our partnership with Alicia and The Center is essential to our mission of providing an excellent, wholistic education for the families and students of West Dallas."

*John's name was changed in the story above. Recognizing that more students such as John could benefit from testing and assessments for learning differences, The Center added this service for West Dallas Community School students which allows them to be tested quickly and efficiently, avoiding a long wait list for testing outside the school.