Counseling professors' resiliency curriculum reaches children in south Texas 

Children in south Texas now have a friendly turtle to turn to when facing grief. Her name is Gertie, and her main message is resiliency.  CBC South Texas

Counseling professors, Dr. Rebecca Frels and Dr. Kimberly McGough, wrote the curriculum “I’m Stronger Today,” in spring of 2022, which is now making its way into the hands of counselors at the Children’s Bereavement Center (CBC) of South Texas. Funded by the 2022 Lamar University Recovery and Resiliency Grant, the curriculum features Gertie, a turtle who uses her protective shell as a safe place to process her emotions at a slow and steady pace.   

The curriculum first made its way to local schools and counseling students who were visiting campus during residency week. Through word of mouth, counseling alumna Shannon Holliday heard about Gertie and reached out to McGough for materials. Holliday is a counselor at the CBC of South Texas in San Antonio.  

“One of my favorite things that I have seen kids respond to, is the way that ‘Fight Flight or Freeze’ is demonstrated and explained. It really helps the younger kids understand that concept,” Holliday explained.  

Although the curriculum is in its preliminary stages of implementation at the CBC of South Texas, Holliday has used it with a handful of clients so far, some of which are survivors from Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.  

I'm Stronger Today“Dr McGough was kind enough to send copies and Gerties [stuffed animals] to all of our team members. The hope was that we would use them sprinkled in with our grief work,” Holliday said. “I have used the curriculum, and it is fantastic. Resiliency is so important, and the kids love Gertie.”  

Named after Gertrude Ederle, an Olympian who became the first woman to swim the English Channel, Frels said it was important to name the mascot after a woman who displayed strength and persistence.  

“To have the image of this resilient turtle throughout each lesson is to have someone like Gertrude Ederle in your corner. In the lessons, we utilized the resilience factors of a turtle, which translates into strategies for young people,” Frels said.  

Illustrated by alumna Vera Gachot, the curriculum begins with mind and body awareness when experiencing stress or trauma, then focuses on recognizing and understanding feelings and thoughts. Next, it focuses on the sense of community as a protective factor, and it ends with students practicing self-kindness and positive self-talk. The curriculum also includes a section for parents to help their children at home.  

"We are both extremely proud,” McGough said. “The curriculum, and Gertie, has reached and impacted elementary-aged students who have been adversely impacted by trauma.”