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A Listening Ear for At-risk Students

10 Apr 2009

Ms Eunice Lim, full-time school counsellor

Ms Eunice Lim was a teacher for 15 years before becoming a school counsellor.

"I feel like I'm the odd one out, that I'm a problematic teenager. I have no one to listen to my problems."

"I feel stressed, confused, and scared. I have a phobia of attending classes and CCA in school. I want to slash myself."

These are some of the thoughts, penned by students, that have passed across the desk of Ms Eunice Lim, a full-time school counsellor at Gan Eng Seng School. She was a teacher first for 15 years, but felt that there was a need to stop and listen to the students' fears and worries.

"When I was teaching, I was increasingly busy with many other duties. I found that I had less time to interact with the students beyond classroom time," she reflects. "It became more difficult for me to attend to a student who needs to talk or express his concerns to somebody who is not in a hurry."

So when MOE created the full-time school counsellor position, Ms Lim took the leap.

Ms Eunice Lim, full-time school counsellor

Ms Lim works with her teaching colleagues to help students with their problems.

In 2006, with a Masters degree in Counselling from Kingsley College in Australia and some counselling experience under her belt, Ms Lim became a full-time school counsellor. Although that means she's technically left the teaching profession, her focus is still very much on developing meaningful interaction with students. What gives her job satisfaction is working alongside students to empower them to solve their own problems.

Helping students help themselves

Ms Lim relates the case of a student who had been teased mercilessly by his classmates as busuk (a Malay word connoting a bad smell) as he had body odour. He tended to perspire a lot and as he came from a poor family, his crumpled clothes were seldom ironed.

When the class didn't take heed of their teacher Mr Premchand's warnings about teasing this student, Ms Lim was roped in to intervene. She took a fresh approach to the situation: eschewing quick fixes, she coached the student to increase his confidence level, so that he could share his side of the story with his classmates. "I asked him several times if he was really up to it, and he was adamant about going through with the sharing."

When the student was ready, he took the mike in front of his class and poured out how he grieved over the recent death of his primary caregiver, how his family was trying to cope with the little they had, and how he felt about being the target of his classmates' teasing. It worked. "At the end of his sharing, the class fell into a deep silence. From then on, the teasing came to a stop," reports Mr Premchand.

A collective effort

Besides working with teachers, Ms Lim also collaborates closely with other organisations such as the school's parent-teacher association, MOE's Guidance Branch, and volunteer welfare agencies such as FaithActs and Touch Community Services. These partnerships between the school, home and community enable Ms Lim to implement effective programmes for at-risk students in the school.

Ms Eunice Lim, full-time school counsellor

Ms Lim received MOE's Outstanding Contribution Award (Individual) in 2007.

For example, Ms Lim roped in Touch Community Services to help reach out to a Sec 2 student who was frequently absent from school because of an online gaming addiction. Although he refused her suggestions to enrol for cyber wellness counselling and the situation dragged on for more than half a year, Ms Lim persisted in trying to help him. She and his form teacher sought help from his peers as well as Touch Community Services to communicate with the student on his turf - online, via instant messaging.

Over time, her perseverance paid off as the student gradually weaned himself off his gaming habits with the support of Ms Lim, his form teacher, his father and Touch Community Services. "We realised that sometimes little actions make a difference," says Ms Lim. "For example, asking him to go out for dinner instead of buying it for him would reduce opportunities for him to indulge in gaming at home."

Ms Lim's tireless efforts in working with the students, her colleagues and external agencies have not gone unnoticed. She received MOE's Outstanding Contribution Award (Individual) in 2007 for the remarkable achievement of reducing the number of mainstream school-leavers at Gan Eng Seng School to zero.

Looking ahead, while Ms Lim has no plans to slow down in her efforts to help at-risk students, she hopes that even more students can be helped in the future. "Perhaps one day, there will come a time where we have one school counsellor per level!"