Faculty Spotlight: Q&A with Julie Tracy-Prieboy

Faculty Spotlight: Q&A with Julie Tracy-Prieboy

Counselor Julie Tracy-Prieboy knows that growing up is messy. She strives to provide the space for Oliverian students to grow, explore, get it wrong, and try again.

With a background in education, non-profit work, and equine therapy, Julie Tracy Prieboy brings over 10 years of experience to Oliverian. Drawn both to Oliverian’s beautiful surroundings and the school’s unique approach to therapy and education, Julie is excited to contribute to the community by helping students get to know themselves better and build relationships with their families and peers. Her diverse background as a licensed social worker with a BA in sociology, theology, and women’s studies — as well as her Master’s in outdoor education — shape the way she helps students and their families.

We caught up with Julie to discuss what the Oliverian mission means to her, the impact of counseling, and her thoughts about the role therapy plays in students’ education at Oliverian.

Q: How is Oliverian different than other therapeutic boarding schools you’ve worked at?

A: Oliverian gives students (and their families) the freedom and space to make mistakes and teaches them how to recover. We also provide support so that they can hold themselves accountable. Nobody likes the feeling of making a mistake, but it’s such a valuable life lesson to learn how to recover and move past it. There’s an opportunity to gain resiliency when you develop coping skills from making errors.

Q: What are some issues that you work through with your students?

A: I have students that come in with every diagnosis under the sun. We see a lot of ADHD and personality disorders. We also have students who fall in the spectrum of nonverbal learning disorders.

While students need to be aware of their diagnoses, their diagnoses can’t be the entirety of their identity. You have to get to know the person in front of you, not just their diagnosis. That said, a diagnosis of NVLD (nonverbal learning disability) might mean that in a classroom setting, a student will struggle to integrate the information presented to them into their learning cycle, or that they aren’t able to process it and place it appropriately into the context of their general learning.

In that case, accommodation might be as simple as giving them the teacher’s notes in advance so they can review them. Then when they hear those concepts in the classroom, they’re able to put them in context. Hopefully, that’s when they can ask questions. Or if they feel unable to ask questions in class, we give them opportunities for follow up later on.

Q: What benefits do you see for students who receive counseling?

A: Students who receive therapy on a regular basis a) have a sounding board — someone who can empathize unconditionally, and b) have support built into their day. The therapist is their best advocate, both in the classroom and with their families. The goal at Oliverian is for students to get to a high level of independence where they can be their own advocate. A big part of how we help students is to call them out on negative patterns of behavior and share with them — in a loving and meaningful way — how to change those behaviors and adapt.

Q: How do you work with families?

A: Each family has contact every week with their advisor, typically a teacher or a dorm parent. But it’s also important for the therapist to be on those calls when needed. For students where family therapy is a needed piece to the puzzle, we might do phone calls or weekend in-person family therapy sessions. In family therapy, we recognize the family system, look at what’s not working, and figure out with the family and student how to best change that dynamic.

Q: What types of students thrive at Oliverian?

A: Students who recognize their limitations and who are able to ask for help do really well at Oliverian. We see students who are curious, who are outside the box, who don’t fit anywhere else, who are exploring a sense of self.

Q: What advice would you give to a parent or student who is considering Oliverian?

A: A big part of considering Oliverian is thinking about what sorts of boundaries and limitations your child does well with. Be honest about your kid’s limitations and needs. Oliverian supports students, helping them learn to problem solve, but the students have a lot of freedom in making their own decisions. I recommend visiting the school, talking with teachers and faculty, and observing current Oliverian students to see how your kid would fit in.