Support Counselor Uses Heart to Help Students Succeed

There are some days that are so emotionally overwhelming, Duncanville High School Counselor Takoya Mandigo says she has to cry when she leaves work. For that, she has a special place set aside in her bedroom.

“When I go home, I pray. I leave all my tissues right on my ottoman as a symbol that I’m giving my problems, my worries to God. Those things I cannot handle, I let him handle it,” Ms. Mandigo said.

Dealing with those deep feelings is part of the job for Duncanville ISD’s four new support counselors. They were hired in the 2019-20 school year specifically to help students who are having trouble in the classroom, either academically or behaviorally, because of social and emotional issues.

Ms. Mandigo, who came from another district where she struggled to make time for true counseling because of her other duties, says her new position is a perfect fit because she is a ‘nourisher.’

“I know that is my purpose. I supply students with what’s necessary for growth. I promote, I build up,” Mandigo said.

Students like an out-of-state transfer, whom we will call John, who came to Duncanville ISD with very little other than what he was wearing. Ms. Mandigo says John was running from a toxic environment where he was verbally and physically abused, and he had bottled up resentment and bitterness. In the classroom, John was defiant and withdrawn.

“When he came to me I just really allowed him to vent and to cry and we just talked about his experience and what he went through,” Mandigo said.

“Sometimes he just needed a place to calm down and refocus. Once he expressed himself and got out all that anger then we talked about ‘what is it you have control over and what is it you can do in your life?’”

For months, John was in Ms. Mandigo’s office twice a week. Those visits led to a positive change.

“[John] said ‘Ms. Mandigo, I want to break this cycle. I want to be the one to graduate. I want to be the one in my family to go to college.’”

“When he began to focus on himself and those things he could control then he knew this was his way out - going to class, being attentive and doing his work.”

Halfway through the school year, John is now coming by about once every other week to check in. He has a job. He is doing better in his classes, and he is working on repairing relationships with his mom and dad.

“It’s hard for students to focus on academics when their emotional state is disrupted,” Ms. Mandigo said. “Our students, a lot of them even if they have not experienced trauma, some of them just need help with social skills or they’re having a hard time managing anxiety or stress. So they need somebody to come help them get through that and to give them strategies necessary to just focus on school.”

John is just one of the many students Ms. Mandigo counsels each week.

“I’ve heard some stories where I’ve had to go in the bathroom and cry and then come back and be present with the student,” Ms. Mandigo said.

She relies on God for strength.

“He tells me, ‘You can do this. You got it. You are a master at building relationships.’ And I think that’s one of the most important things in dealing with these students is building that relationship because some of them just need somebody to care about them and listen to them.”