ENTERPRISE — Enterprise High School’s new counselor sees his job as being more than just someone who directs students toward getting the necessary credits to graduate. He helps with their special problems.
“I don’t think Enterprise High School has had a counselor — a mental health counselor,” said Landon Braden, who has been on the job for just a month. “They’ve had a very good relationship with the Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness in providing those services, but it’s at least been a very long time since they’ve had a counselor on staff in the school. The biggest part of that position is you’re building the program. The Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness has done a very good job in building the system and having those services, but adding a full-time counselor inside the school adds another component to it. I see it as a multitiered system so that the kids who are having a hard time focusing because of something they’re going through, whether that be a relationship or something at home.”
Braden said that multitiered system involves first, himself as the counselor on campus. The second tier brings in a counselor from the Center for Wellness. The third tier would bring in a specialized counselor to help work through an intensive mental health situation.
“The school counselor is on the front line and helping to get the kid to the right place for their needs,” he said.
The brother of former Joseph city Administrator/Recorder Larry Braden, Landon and his wife, the former Vanessa Johnson, are both alumni of Joseph High School from the early 2000s. They have three children, ranging in age from 5 to 10, and numerous family members in the area, including both sets of their parents.
“It’s great for our kids to grow up with cousins around and going to the same school,” he said. “My wife and I have never had the support of our family around. … It’s great — our kids having cousins in their classrooms, something they haven’t experienced before. We’re related to lots of folks. I’m finding new relatives all the time. It’s a great place to raise a family and a great community to be a part of.”
He even reconnected with former teachers of his.
“We got to the point where the desire to raise our kids in the same community where we grew up became bigger and bigger and bigger every year,” he said. “Then the opportunity came up. I saw the job posting at Enterprise High School. (EHS Principal) Blake Carlsen was my fourth-grade teacher, so I called him up and asked about the job. He said, ‘You’re not interested, are you?’ I said I might be.”
So he interviewed and was offered the job.
“It was the right time for us,” Braden said.
Special ed interest
“I was a student who struggled in school … I was about a C student” out of high school, Braden said. “I started with learning how to learn.”
He attended Eastern Oregon University; Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho; Walla Walla (Washington) University; and Walla Walla Community College before returning to EOU, ending up with degrees in leadership, organization and business management.
But his first job wasn’t in education.
“At that time, I thought I wanted to be a stock broker, so I got my license with the Securities and Exchange Commission,” Braden said. “That lasted all of about a year before I figured out that job is really boring.”
But his own experience learning brought him back to education.
“I’ve always been ADHD, and as a kid it got the best of me. I had trouble focusing and you have to move a lot,” he said. “I still tell kids this, ADHD and ADD, if they learn how to focus it, they can be the best kids ever because you can focus on multiple things at once. Typically, you’ll get more done than the average person because you’re working on six or seven different projects at once and you have that ability to hop back and forth. … If you can learn to harness that, it can be a really good thing. … My personal experience in my own education is what drove me toward teaching and made me want to be a special ed teacher from the beginning.”
Braden knows that as a counselor, he has to reach out to kids who may have problems.
“Especially in a small school, you’re going to wear several different hats,” he said. “But the bigger piece is helping kids who struggle with social and emotional needs that aren’t being met somewhere.”
The counselor must reach out and not expect kids to just come on their own.
“The work starts way before they need you,” he said. “You’re building relationships and connecting with kids on their best days, on good days. So when they have a bad day, they have that comfort relationship and want to come talk to you.”
One of those “extra hats” he’s wearing at present is that of acting principal for Enterprise Elementary School. In fact, he virtually traded jobs with former Principal Erika Pinkerton — who also was district superintendent — and now holds his former job as director of student services with the La Grande School District.
As principal, he’s in charge of discipline, though he doesn’t look upon that role in a punitive sense.
“My approach to that was what I call ‘restorative justice,’ so rather than a disciplinarian assigning a punishment, I started with, ‘What do I want the kid to learn?’ and then work backwards to how I’m going to help him learn,” he said. “For example, we caught some kids vaping in the bathroom (in La Grande). The counselor at the time had them take a class on the damaging effects of the vapors that come out of their vape pens and the long-term consequences of that. Then they wrote a paper to me on what they learned and then also to potentially the victims of that as a victim incident, meaning, let’s say that while they were in the bathroom, they vandalized a stall. What they probably don’t think of is how is that going to affect the custodian. Is it fair I’m creating this extra work for them? … So we’d have them write a letter to the custodian apologizing and explaining what they learned.”
He said they also had the offending kids clean up any damage done.
“In La Grande, chewing gum was a major issue. With 500-600 kids in a building, gum ended up everywhere,” he said. “We had a pretty strict no-gum policy.”
One time he had a kid he’d talked to several times.
“He just kept it up. So I talked to his parents and I talked to the custodian and the next time he did it, I had him scrape off the bottom of all the tables in the cafeteria,” he said. “That was the last time I ever had to write him up for chewing gum.”
Braden’s first month at Enterprise has come with a few additions, he said.
Amy Stangel, the social-emotional prevention coordinator, also fulfills the counselor role in the elementary school, educating kids on how to express their emotions and successfully convey their frustrations.
Dakota Hull is the supervisor of K-12 online learning and the truancy officer for the district. Braden works with both.
“With them together, we are developing a whole new behavior system for Enterprise Elementary,” he said. “It’s going to be less punitive and more base on encouraging, building and rewarding positive behavior.”
Addressing COVID regulations
As principal, Braden is required to see that students and staff comply with state regulations requiring face masks and — for adults — vaccines. But he understands some may object to the state mandates.
“Whether or not you believe in the masks, our staff accepts that if we want to keep kids in our building, we’ve got to wear the masks,” he said.
The vaccine issue can be more complex, he said.
“We have teachers in both camps, of willing to be vaccinated or not,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I want to see teachers in classrooms and kids in seats learning. Whatever we need to do to make that happen, we need to do it. I think that viewpoint is not uncommon among the staff here.”