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Silver Linings: Lewiston school counselor focuses on hope

Vicky Wiegman’s last day at Lewiston High School is set for June 17. She has been a substance use prevention coordinator and advisor at LHS for 35 years. “A year led to another,” she says. Daryn Slover/Sun Diary

LEWISTON — In her 35 years of counseling addicted or drug-addicted teens, Vicky Wiegman has focused on hope.

“I would listen to this question: ‘Are you going to be okay? Is everything going to be okay?’ It was a natural attempt to survive,” she said in a recent phone interview.

Children struggling with drugs, alcohol or tobacco often feel like all is lost, she said.

“But at 16, all can’t be lost,” she said. “I try to be a hopeful person for them.”

Wiegman, 60, is scheduled to retire June 17 from Lewiston Public Schools. She has been the only high school and college addiction treatment coordinator/counsellor/specialist. She also consults primary school teachers. The district has more than 5,000 students.

Superintendent Jake Langlais said he was sorry to see her go.

In a moving farewell speech at a recent school committee meeting, Langlais called Wiegman “the foundation of all good things.”

Wiegman has touched thousands of lives over the past 35 years, in schools and in the wider community, he said.

“She believes in well-being for everyone – adults and children,” Langlais said. “She is a leader. It is student-centred. She knows the trends and has the data and makes sure everyone has what they need to be well. Vicky is and will remain a leader in our state.

Wiegman served on the Lewiston area public health committee and worked with Healthy Androscoggin, among other health-related groups, over the years.

She has seen trends come and go. More recently, vaping and cannabis use have increased, she said.

“Certainly, vaping nicotine just exploded,” Wiegman said. “Some days I feel like everyone does.”

Marijuana has been a constant, she said, but with the legalization of medical marijuana and recreational use by adults, the health effects are unclear for teens.

“It’s confusing for the kids,” she said. “When something is normalized it seems OK, but when you’re a kid your body and your brain change.”

She tries to help the children who land in her office get to a place where they can see optimism and beauty.

“It’s been a real gift to see this over the years,” she said.

But not everyone responds to advice, according to Wiegman.

“Some are lost to us,” she said. “They don’t buy what we sell, and that’s always difficult. I just hope that if we couldn’t get through that someone or something in the future speaks to that person and they can get what they need: to be fulfilled and contribute to our society.

Although Wiegman said she enjoys working with children and is dedicated to helping them, she is ready to move on.

“I was frank with people,” she says. “I’ve been very clear that I don’t want to do this anymore. It’s been a tough year for anyone in education.

After more than a year of distance and blended learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, many students are struggling emotionally and falling behind academically.

Despite this blip, Wiegman has many success stories.

“Sometimes they land in my office crying, and I help them understand and get back there,” she said. “A few of them are graduating this year. It’s very moving for me.

She promised one of these children that she would wait until he graduated before retiring.

“He said, ‘OK, Mrs. Wiegman, now you can retire.'”

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