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Sup with the Sup
Sup with the Sup
Episode 28: School Counseling with Phil Sudweeks

Welcome everyone to the next episode of Provo City School District’s What’s Up with the Sup podcast. I am Superintendent Wendy Dau. This week I am visiting with Phil Sudweeks, the school counselor at Independence High School in honor of National School Counseling Week, which occurred earlier this month.

But first, here are our updates.

  • We want to recognize that February is Black History Month and CTE month.
  • The next school board meeting will be a study session and business meeting on Tuesday, February 27th. This study session and business meeting will take place in board room one at the district office. Both meetings are open to the public and public comment is welcome at the business meeting. Check our website for start times of both meetings.
  • Look for the weekly video cast from me every Friday and this short video, I provide important information and updates about work happening throughout the district.

Wendy: Welcome everyone. This week, our guest is Phil Sudweeks. He is a school counselor at Independence High School. Welcome to our podcast.

Phil: Hi, thank you.

Wendy: Tell us a little bit about yourself. How long have you been a counselor? How long have you been at Independence High School?

Phil: Yeah, so this is my 15th year in Provo School District as a counselor.

Wendy: Wow.

Phil: I started out at Dixon Middle School. I was there for seven years, and this is now my eighth year at Independence.

Wendy: Okay. Have you always been a school counselor? Were you a teacher before? And what made you decide you wanted to be a counselor?

Phil: I was not a teacher before. I was in school wanting to be a teacher and it just wasn’t feeling right. And then I sort of heard about school counseling and my mom knew someone that did it and I talked to him and I thought, yeah, this is totally what I want to do.

Wendy: Totally.

Phil: It was a good choice. Yeah. It was the right choice.

Wendy: Good. And where did you go to school? What was your schooling like to be able to land a counseling job? What does that preparation look like?

Phil: Yeah. So my undergraduate is at the University of Utah.

Wendy: Oh, good job. Yeah. Am I allowed to say that in Provo?

Phil: Yes.

Wendy: Okay. Okay. Good. Good.

Phil: So I’m a little of an outsider, but. Um, so I went to the University of Utah and then I did my master’s degree through the University of Phoenix.

Wendy: Oh, great. Yeah. For those school counseling.

Phil: Yeah. Masters of school counseling. Yes.

Wendy: Awesome. Tell me what a typical day looks like for you and typical, obviously I’m, you don’t have typical days as a school counselor, but what might a day look like for you?

Phil: Yeah, there’s, like you said, there’s not really a typical day, but there are lots of meetings with students. Right now, you know, we’re in the second half of the year, we’re already pushing March. And so lots of senior meetings right now, trying to get them motivated, keep them motivated, let them know where they are. Um, our terms are a little bit different and our term ends this week. So we’re trying to get kids, trying to push them across the finish line.

So lots of meetings like that, meetings with kids, you know, talking about what they want to do next in their lives. Several parent meetings today, just, you know, talking to parents, trying to get on the same page and seeing what we can do to help their students. So we do lots of those types of things.

We always help supervise at lunch, so we get out of the office a little bit, you know, get to go to the gym and hang out with the kids at lunch. which is always fun. Um, lots of home visits and things like that.

Wendy: You get to see the kids in a different light when they’re at lunch versus when they’re sitting in front of their parent being told that they might not graduate if they don’t start working a little bit harder.

Phil: And I think they get to see us in a different light too, which is, which is a great thing.

Wendy: That’s awesome. Okay. And then you were talking about home visits. Talk to me a little bit about home visits. People ask me questions like, what is that? Why do people do that? What is the purpose of that? So tell us a little bit about that.

Phil: There’s different reasons for it. And a lot of times it’s just, we’re not seeing kids at school and you know, we call, we’re not getting responses or they’re just not coming. So we just go and we just want to see if we can talk to them, see what’s going on, what we can do to help talk to them and their parents.

And it’s also just helpful to see kind of the home environment and, and learn about their families and things like that. But yeah, it’s typically for kids that we’re just not seeing at school. So we try to go see what we can do to help get them to come to school.

Wendy: A lot of times we discover barriers, right? That families are facing when kids aren’t showing up to school and sometimes we can help with that.

Phil: Yeah.

Wendy: Just, and it builds a relationship outside of a school environment. Some parents are sometimes intimidated by a school environment and so us coming to them is, I found to be really helpful sometimes.

Phil: Yeah. I think they, they say, Oh man, these guys really, these really care, you know, or they’re knocking on my door. And sometimes it makes kids really uncomfortable to see us, you know, outside of the normal school environment, but it’s a good chance to get to know the families and build relationships and things like that.

Wendy: So that’s great. That’s awesome. What is the best part about your job?

Phil: Best part of my job is definitely just getting to know students, connecting with them. I’m in high school. So a lot of times they’re here for four years and just. Seeing the growth from little freshmen to, you know, walking across the graduation stage is, is amazing.

Seeing the maturity, the growth, all those types of things. But just the day to day relationships, getting to know the kids, you know, we’re a small school here, so I have an advantage, I think, over the bigger schools where I can really get to know all of the kids. And it’s just fun, you know, to be being around them every day and getting to know them. So that’s definitely my favorite part.

Wendy: What is the part that you find the most challenging about your job?

Phil: Sometimes it feels like we as the adults in the school want it more than the kids do. If that makes sense?

Wendy: Yes, it does. I totally know that feeling. Yeah.

Phil: Yeah. Like, I mean, we’ll bend over backwards and do whatever we can. And sometimes they’re just like, eh, you know, whatever.

Wendy: Whatever.

Phil: So that, that’s definitely a challenge. So just the challenge of motivating kids. Getting them to look past today and tomorrow, you know, getting to look to the future and helping them understand why this is so important. You know, we’re not trying to torture them by making them come to school, but we really, you know, we as adults, we know what it’s like out there and we want to prepare them for the future and help them see that. But it sometimes is a difficult thing.

Wendy: We’re trying to get them as many opportunities as possible. And they don’t always, they see us as kind of nagging them. Just get off my back a little bit. Yeah.

Phil: Yeah. So it’s hard to not come across that way, but you know, we want them to see how important this is and how much of an effect it’s going to have on the rest of their lives.

Wendy: Oh, most definitely. You’ve been in education for a long time, so tell me a little bit about how your job has changed over time. You know, what was it like when you were first starting out as a counselor versus what are the things that you’re dealing with the most now?

Phil: I feel like when I started at the middle school, a very common thing at that time, and I don’t know, I don’t know why, I’ve thought about this a lot actually. There was a lot of self injury and self harm happening at that time. You know, this was like, what, 2009, 2010 ish? You know, so maybe the rise of social media was, was kind of fueling that.

I feel like we see less of that now, which is a good thing. I do feel like kids experiencing anxiety, social anxiety, school anxiety, has gone way, way up in the time that I’ve been working. Which is, I think a lot of kids are drawn to Independence because it’s smaller and it kind of helps with that social anxiety, smaller classes, less people in the halls and things like that.

But that’s definitely something that I’ve seen a huge rise in, is kids feeling anxious. And that being a reason for not coming to school.

Wendy: I’m glad that you brought that up. Cause I was thinking about when I’ve walked through the halls of Timpview or Provo high and just, the massive numbers of students that are there and when you were talking about that anxiety piece, this environment really helps put kids at ease. There are fewer adults that they have to get to know. It’s a smaller setting. I mean people really do know them and it and it isn’t just a handful of people. It’s like every single adult in the building knows who they are.

Phil: Some kids are a little bit turned off by that at the beginning.

Wendy: I’m sure everyone in the office,

Phil: Everyone in the halls knows my name, you know, what’s going on, but it really is beneficial. It is a great thing for sure.

Wendy: It provides a really good option for many of our students. Tell me a little bit about, you kind of said that you had started off being a teacher, then you switched and realized that you wanted to be a counselor. What about a job as a counselor really draws you to that. When you were talking with people who were counselors, what pulled you into that and said, Yes, I would be really good at that, or that’s what I, that’s what I’m passionate about.

Phil: I think I’ve always been an attentive listener, I guess you could say. I’m not a real outgoing person, so I enjoy listening to other people, I think. So that’s always been kind of a natural thing for me. But also just just knowing that you could have an impact on a student’s future and helping them plan out what are my next steps kids go from school from 5 to 18, you know whatever it is. And then all of a sudden it ends and for a lot of kids.

That’s a scary thing every year. They just know in August I’m going to school and it’s kind of been laid out. And so just the thoughts of helping kids Plan for that next step, prepare for the future, and hopefully being, you know, a positive role model impact on them, just really draws me to it. And seeing kids graduate and move on to other things is just a really rewarding thing as well for me.

Wendy: I love watching kids come in as ninth graders and they’re squirrely and, I don’t know, just, you have all of these images, right? Of the kids that walk in and you’re like, Oh man, are we going, are we going to survive the next four years with you? We’ll see how this goes. And then when they walk across that stage and they get their diploma and they’re so excited. And they’re proud of themselves and they’re so appreciative. It’s just, there is nothing better than that feeling. It’s pretty incredible. So I totally see that. What is one experience maybe that, that stands out in your mind, or if there’s a couple that you feel like you could share where you know that you’ve made a real difference or maybe even your interaction with that student has had a real impact on you and how you approach your work.

Phil: I’ve had so many great experiences over the years. One I’m thinking of – we had a student who graduated two, three years ago. I don’t, I don’t remember exactly. And she wasn’t living in Provo. And this was after she graduated. She had a disagreement with her parents and late at night was kind of kicked out of the house and said, you’re not allowed to come back.

And, um, when I arrived at school the next morning, I usually ride my bike. She was standing by the door and just said, Hey, can I talk to you? And I said, yeah, of course, you know, I’m so happy to see you. And she was going through this difficult time and she ended up sleeping in her car that night, but her first thought was like, I’m going back to independence because I know they’ll help me there.

Like, I don’t know what to do. I don’t have anywhere to go, but I know that I can go there and find help. That was just a great feeling. And it wasn’t just me, it was lots of other people as well. But just knowing that we had set up this environment where she was, she knew she was cared about, she knew she could come for help.

So that was a great experience for me. And just realizing that, yeah, we can, you know, we help the kids now, but we can also help kids in the future and just have an impact. And like you said before, just graduation is just such a beautiful thing. So amazing. And it’s at the end of the year. And everybody’s so tired, but it’s also so energizing, you know, like, Oh, like I just leave it just thinking, Oh, I don’t want the school year to end. I don’t want tomorrow to be the last day of school because it’s so energizing to see the kids you’ve known for a couple of years, they’ve overcome so many challenges. Just like you said, walking across the stage and seeing that and seeing their parents smiling is just, it’s an amazing feeling for sure.

Wendy: I went to a conference a couple years ago and it was entitled Know Their Name, Know Their Story and it really kind of sat with me because I was a principal of a really large high school and I just thought about that as the kids walk across that stage, I’m so jealous. Like, you know every kid’s story and what they’ve been through and helped them along the way. That’s a pretty powerful and incredible thing that you walk away with.

Phil: Yeah, I would agree. It’s great.

Wendy: It’s awesome.

Phil: I’m very lucky for sure. Yeah.

Wendy: Yeah. People always ask me, what’s the difference between a counselor and a social worker?

Phil: Yeah, that’s a good question. People ask me that, too. Um, I think there’s a lot of overlap between our jobs, but we’re, we’re different.

A lot of social workers, I think, are licensed therapists. Um, and we are not that as school counselors. At least not in our school counselor training. There are some that are.

Wendy: Okay.

Phil: But we definitely do, as counselors, help out with the mental health side of things at schools, working with kids with anxiety, doing suicide risk assessments, you know, just all those types of things, just being, you know, a listening ear.

The social workers take on more of the long term kind of mental health side of things. And I’ve always seen school counselors as we’re more kind of like the first responders, you know, or the paramedics, the first ones there, kind of figure out the situation, see where they need to go. Yeah. And then the social workers or, you know, even outside agencies kind of take on the more long term stuff.

So there is some overlap there. You know, we do a lot more of the academic side of things than the social workers do. Making sure that kids are in the right classes and passing their classes and getting their credits and those types of things. So that’s the big difference. At Independence, at least, we work very closely with the social workers. Doing home visits, you know, stocking the food pantry, making sure kids have their physical needs met and things like that, so.

Wendy: I feel like when there’s a really good relationship between counselors and social workers, that’s when you get like that full triage of services to support kids that that definitely works the very best.

What do you wish that people knew about school counselors that maybe they don’t know?

Phil: I think a lot of people do see us as just, they’re just there to make the schedules, get the kids in their schedules, things like that. Where that is a part of our job for sure. You know, but we also have the mental health side of things, and we also have the career, college preparedness side of things, too.

And I think a lot of times people don’t see that. They just see like, oh, I need to get my schedule changed, so I’m going to go to my counselor. And that is one important thing, but just one of the things that we do. So yeah, I think there’s more to it than, than that.

Wendy: That your day is actually quite varied and it has a lot of different pieces to it. I mean, especially if you’re talking about a student who’s coming back two years later, she clearly is seeing that these individuals here at the school, you in particular, are a resource and someone they can turn to for help. That’s pretty incredible.

Well, thank you so much for being on our show. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your job or about students about what’s awesome about being a counselor that we haven’t touched on?

Phil: I always tell people I have the greatest job in the world, and I really believe that I’m not just saying that just because it is so varied and I really enjoy working with students. And I enjoy that every day is a new adventure. You know, you never know. I can, I can plan out my day and then somebody comes in and it just gets blown up.

But I enjoy that, that part of it. Also, I think a lot of people don’t know a lot about Independence High School. And a lot of people’s perceptions maybe are not super positive if they do know about Independence. But it really is an amazing place. You know, a smaller environment where kids can come that need extra help and maybe extra love and caring. And I think we’re really good at that. I just want people to know how great of a place it is. Most times when people are here and they’ve seen it, they’re like, Oh, this is not at all what I expected that we get that all the time because it is an amazing place for sure.

Wendy: Well, it’s interesting because almost everyone that I interact with, they talk about how incredible Independence is. So I get a lot of positives about all of the things that are happening at Independence and the opportunities that are afforded kids here and the second and third and fourth chances that kids sometimes need and just the supports and the care and the attention that is paid to individual students. So I want you guys to know that that’s what I hear about Independence High School. So, um, so I hope that I can help to generate that information as well. So you have a lot of fans.

I just want to thank you from our district leadership and from our community. Just thank you so much for all that you do for our kids. I know that every day you come in and it’s going to be different and you’re just responding and you’ll also have your own personal lives and your, and counselors are dealing with all of their own stuff as well. And yet you were putting kids first each and every day. And just how much I appreciate that so much to really provide these opportunities for all of our students.

Phil: Thank you so much.

Wendy: Thank you for joining me for this episode of What’s up With the Sup. As always, all episodes will be posted on the district website, YouTube, and anywhere you get your podcasts. If you have any topics or questions you would like us to discuss on the podcast, please email us at

Please be sure to join me again next week for an all new episode of What’s Up with the Sup, where I will be joined by the Provo City School District Foundation to learn more about the upcoming Easter Basket Auction.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Shauna Sprunger
  • Coordinator of Communications
  • Shauna Sprunger