27 July 2018

Staff Spotlight: Dale Callender

The Staff Spotlight Series features dedicated staff at Skylark who have made a lasting impact in the community. We explore what motivates our staff to do the amazing work they do every day.

Meet Dale Callender, Skylark’s In-School Counsellor at Northern Secondary School.

What is your role as an in-school counsellor?

Dale works in collaboration with the school’s existing support services to provide barrier-free counselling services to over 1900 students at Northern Secondary School.

Dale’s door is always open for students to drop by and speak with him. Being present full-time at Northern Secondary School, Dale is well-known by students and he is familiar with resources available in the community, including Skylark’s diverse programs and services. Dale works collaboratively with the school’s administration and social workers to support youth access to the mental health system.

In addition, Dale is involved in many activities over the course of the school year. He is an advisor to the Student Council, Wellness Committee, and Fashion Show. He is also the coach for the Football team and Rugby team. Every other year he leads the production of the school’s play.

Being involved in the youth culture at school allows Dale to be a familiar, accessible resource for youth who may not feel comfortable asking for help.

Dale has been the full-time in-school counsellor at Northern for 20 years. He says, “It doesn’t feel like 20 years. I love my job. You never know what each day’s going to present.”  Over the years, Dale’s presence has become much more embedded at Northern, with the majority of youth aware of his role and Skylark’s services.

Dale’s office and the hallway are covered with pictures of students he’s helped during 20 years at Northern Secondary School.

What have you learned during your time at Skylark?

One of his major learnings is that “you can only focus on things you can control”. While he can be an agent of change, he is not the one making that change. He provides youth with the resources and tools so they can make change in their own lives.

When asked how he determines success in his position, Dale says he works with students and families to set their own goals. For students, success can take many different forms. For example, it could be increasing attendance, completing credits, raising marks, or leaving school to enter the workforce. Students determine what success means to them.

What changes have you observed in the mental health sector?

The biggest change is increased awareness of mental health, leading to reduced stigma of accessing mental health services. There has been a focus on mental health in the media, as well as a tremendous increase in resources for youth.

Young people are more aware that they can ask for help and they are learning the language to communicate their mental health challenges. They are also more empowered to make decisions about their treatment.

Dale says, “It’s tougher now to be a high school kid than it ever was before”. While young people continue to face the same struggles at school, such as managing stress, getting enough sleep, and balancing physical and mental health, these issues have evolved due to the increased presence of the Internet and social media.

There is also more pressure and higher expectations for youth to make important decisions at a young age. Leaving high school, young people are expected to manage responsibilities such as their career, education, money, relationships, and self-care in an increasingly complex world.

What changes do you wish to see in the mental health sector?

In terms of allocating resources, he believes that both intervention and prevention services are important. Mental health education in schools is key in order to teach language and tools about mental wellness at a young age. In addition, he believes there should be better continuity into the adult mental health system. The transition period from youth to adulthood is very challenging. After graduating high school, there are far fewer resources for adults. Services tend to be more medical, less accessible, and have long wait times. At Skylark, we support the transition into adulthood by providing free, drop-in counselling services for young people up to age 26 at our walk-in clinics.

What motivates your dedication to child and youth mental health?

Dale has been working in the field for over 30 years. He loves being an in-school counsellor because he can provide help and resources in a unique environment that aligns with his personality. He is motivated by the impact he has on youth, demonstrating this is an effective approach to counselling.

Dale is a Northern Secondary School graduate from 1987. After high school, he worked in a travel agency and hated his job. The highlight of his day was helping with the football team at Northern after hours. When a member of the team tragically died in a boating accident, Dale realized, “If the last thing I ever did in my life was a job that I hated, that would not be a good way to go.”

The next day he quit his job and within a week he sta rted his career in the child and youth mental health sector. After working at Covenant House and Aisling Discoveries for over 10 years, Dale came full circle as the in-school counsellor at Northern Secondary School.

We are so thankful for Dale’s long-term impact, representing Skylark at Northern Secondary School.