2012-06-14 / Schools

Counselor who founded La Reina peer groups to retire

Many graduating seniors helped by Growth Groups
By Anna Bitong


GOOD LISTENERS—La Reina High School students Morgan Simcik, left, and junior Hannah Delsohn, right, and counselor Patty Papps, center, are participants in the high school’s Growth Groups. Papps, who retired at the end of the school year, started the groups 20 years ago. 
WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers GOOD LISTENERS—La Reina High School students Morgan Simcik, left, and junior Hannah Delsohn, right, and counselor Patty Papps, center, are participants in the high school’s Growth Groups. Papps, who retired at the end of the school year, started the groups 20 years ago. WENDY PIERRO/Acorn Newspapers Once a week during the last elective period of the day, La Reina High School students gather in small groups to unload their burdens and support each other.

More than half the student body in grades seven through 12 participate in Growth Groups that counselor Patty Papps, who just retired, started 20 years ago.

“A lot of times we have no idea what people are carrying inside them,” said Papps, 65, Spanish teacher and counselor at La Reina for 25 years. “They seem to have their act together, have a smile on their face. Growth Groups take off the masks. All of a sudden we are all the same.”

In a typical session during the six-week course, the students all rate their past week, after which lighthearted banter or serious conversations begin.

Stress management and selfesteem are common topics.

Personal issues are kept confidential among classmates.

Junior Hannah Delsohn has been part of a diverse group of the same 10 girls since her freshman year.

“We get insight into the lives of people we normally wouldn’t talk to,” she said. “And it’s given me insight as to how mature and compassionate people our age can be.”

Hannah, 17, remembered the first time someone in the group opened up about a serious problem.

“ Everyone was enthralled. They star ted fee l ing they can talk about anything they want,” she said.

“Once someone breaks the ice, it gives them permission to be real,” said Papp s , who moved to Thousand Oaks from Boston in 1978 and earned a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling from Cal Lutheran University.

Papps, who led the groups with fellow counselor Yolanda Rogers, said students learn to listen, accept differences, problem solve and empathize.

“Students form connections of support and rely upon each other in tough times and rejoice when things are going well,” Papps said. “We’ve cried hard and laughed hard.”

Even the youngest students benefit from the environment of acceptance and confidentiality,

Papps said.

“ Some seve nth- and eighth-grad- ers share very deeply. They don’t have as many layers that they’ve built up to hide behind,” she said.

For graduating senior Morgan Simcik, who plans to become a marriage and family counselor like Papps, joining a group was an opportunity to get closer to her professional goal.

“I love helping people, I love listening to people. (Growth Groups) strengthened my passion,” said Morgan, who will begin psychology classes at Oregon State University in the fall.

Among the swapped bits of advice Morgan will carry with her beyond high school: “Don’t sweat the small stuff. Let that go.”

Papps said the best gift from Growth Groups is not advice, but “undivided attention.”

“When you completely focus on another and listen to what she’s saying to you, you give her a treasure—you,” she said.

Papps is looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren and taking an October cruise to Nova Scotia and Quebec City with other retired La Reina teachers.

She said the two- decade tradition she created taught her some valuable lessons, too.

“Students have taught me how to persevere, be brave and have courage in some of life’s hardest times.

“They’ve shown me what resilience is all about.”

Return to top