By Erica Fatima
National School Counseling Week (Feb. 1-5), sponsored by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), highlights the tremendous impact school counselors within U.S. school systems have in helping students achieve academic success and plan for a career. This year’s theme is “School Counseling: The Recipe for Success.”
Notably, Atlanta Public Schools own Dr. Sheryl Neely, a professional school counselor at Frederick Douglass High School has been named National Counselor of the Year by The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), and was awarded the Region II 2016 ACTE Career Guidance Award! Click here to read the press release.
This year, APS will celebrate National School Counseling Week by highlighting signature programs and community partnerships throughout all school campuses and the CLL building. For example, on Tuesday, all schools will participate in No Place For Hate campaigns, and upon successful completion each school will earn a No Place For Hate designation. The Maynard Jackson Cluster will host a basketball night to celebrate their inaugural designations as “No Place For Hate.” Thursday is the REACH Scholar Parent Night in which REACH scholars and parents will participate in a meeting regarding HOPE scholarship updates, advanced learning opportunities, Move On When Ready program and the APS College and Career Academy.
We invite parents and community members to learn more about school counseling programs by contacting your local APS School. General information can be found on the APS website at http://www.atlantapublicschools.us/page/192 and ASCA’s website, www.schoolcounselor.org.
Special Profile: APS Communications interviewed three APS Counselors and asked them to share their experiences; here’s what they said:
Above, left to right: Darryl Robinson, North Atlanta HS; Petrina Howard, D.H. Stanton ES; Shalonda Stinson, Crawford Long MS
APS Communications: How long have you been a school counselor?
Robinson: “I have been in the profession for nine years. I initially started my career in APS as a substitute teacher for middle and high school. In 2007, I completed my counseling internship at APS’ Carver Early College. Upon completion, I received and accepted an offer with a neighboring school district. Recently, an opportunity opened for me to return to APS as an experienced counselor. I gladly accepted.”
Stinson: “I have been a counselor for one year. I began my career in education working for a national non-profit drop-out prevention agency, helping at-risk students remain in school.”
Howard: “I started my career in school counseling 14 years ago with Atlanta Public Schools.”
APS Communications: What are the benefits of working with APS?
Stinson: “There are many benefits of being an educator in the Atlanta Public Schools system. There are numerous opportunities to collaborate with veteran counselors, teachers, students, and other educators that have the same common goal—the success of all our scholars. Additionally, APS offers a variety of professional development programs; e.g., Social Emotional Learning, College and Career Readiness, and the Personal and Social Growth programs, which are very beneficial.”
Howard: “One of the main benefits of working with APS is seeing positive results when working with students who may experience a dearth of basic needs regarding safety and belonging. Once our students realize they can trust you and know you truly care, they are more willing to work on improving academically and behaviorally. From a staff perspective, professional development opportunities abound at APS. Improving your skill set benefits you as a professional and the students you serve.”
Robinson: “Working for APS provides you with the chance to participate in progressive, next-level focus groups. We (counselors) are afforded the opportunity to actively engage in the decision making process, determining what technological tools will best assist us in managing our caseloads with fidelity.”
APS Communications: In what way does your work impact APS students?
Stinson: “There are currently three counselors at Long Middle School and we work as a team! I currently serve as the 8th grade counselor. I’m responsible for administering the 8th grade Career Assessment (GA College 411) and the Individual Graduation Plan (IGP), which helps students assess their gifts, strengths and future interests. This work is awesome and truly has a major impact on our student’s future.”
Robinson: “As the 12th grade counselor, my top priority is ensuring our seniors meet all graduation requirements. Through college tours, workshops, internships and scholarship opportunities, I make sure our seniors are exposed to, and ready for, post-secondary options. My role as school counselor doesn’t end everyday at 4 p.m. I have incorporated relevant technology such as Remind101 and SnapChat so students and parents can contact me at anytime. Even on the weekends, I’m in constant communication with students and parents, working to guarantee seniors are on track for graduation, and deadlines for scholarships and college applications are met. I want students prepared for life beyond high school.”
Howard: “My work as an elementary counselor impacts students in a variety of ways. Teaching basic social skills at the elementary level is key to student success. When a student is able to work collaboratively, in a positive environment, school is more enjoyable and instructional time is enhanced. By advocating for wraparound services like school supplies, food, clothing, and mental health care, I hope to provide an equitable learning environment for all students. Finally, I try to influence student perceptions so that they make the connection; college and successful careers are within reach.”
APS Communications: What is the importance of the role of counselor in the schools?
Robinson: “School counselors play a vital role in addressing the social, emotional, and academic needs of the student. In many cases, school counselors wear multiple hats. Some counselors are utilized to serve as an administrator/disciplinarian, which can be confusing for the student. We have to continuously strive to build trust; knowing that when a crisis occurs, it’s extremely important for students to view counselors as their advocate, not as their enemy.
Howard: “In my opinion, counselors play a vital role in student success. Counselors assist teachers with student behavioral issues, classroom management and closing the achievement gap. Counselors collaborate with administrators and the community in providing support for students. Counselors also work closely with parents at the elementary level to stress the importance of parental involvement and student attendance.”
Stinson: “Being an advocate for children is one of the most important characteristics of a counselor. It is important that children know that they are being heard. Some students speak with their voices, while others have been harmed so deeply that they only speak through subtle body clues. Counselors must be discerning. We must have a commitment and passion for helping students to overcome challenges, so that they are successful academically and in life. Many may not realize the gift true counselors have…the gift to be that ear and see the depths of their student’s needs.”
APS Communications: Please share with us a memorable counseling moment.
Howard: “The most memorable moments in my career as a school counselor continue to be to be the, end-of-the-year 5th Grade Awards and Promotional Program. Watching 5th grade students showcase academic excellence, with pride and confidence, is always an emotional time for me.”
Robinson: “There are so many memorable moments that it’s a challenge to select only one. Recently, I had a homeless student in my caseload that was helping her mom raise her 8 siblings. This student was extremely intelligent, she had a 3.8 GPA, but wasn’t planning to attend college because she was the primary support system for her mom. She struggled with the idea of leaving her family to attend college, and shared these concerns with me. I counseled her on the importance of setting an example for her younger siblings; but most importantly, by furthering her education she could change the trajectory of her life. I helped her apply for prestigious schools, right here in GA, where she could remain close to her family. She was accepted into both Georgia State and Spelman, but even with financial aide, she couldn’t afford to attend. I was determined to help her. I kept pursuing until we were able to secure a full academic scholarship to Spelman College. She graduated last year, Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Early Childhood Education.”
Stinson: “There are many memorable moments during my tenure as an educator and counselor. Of note, there was a particular student who seemed to stay in trouble and often disrupted her class. She was sent to my office on a regular basis. I reached out to her family, but there was little support there, and our counseling sessions appeared to be of no avail. However; years later this young lady wrote me a beautiful letter stating; (“You thought I wasn’t listening, but I was. Its because of you that I am the woman I am today. Now I successfully serve in the Armed Forces, and I have children of my own.”) I believe that if we can save one “little starfish,” the world will be a much better place to live in!”
APS Communications: In closing, do you have an inspirational quote that motivates you?
Howard: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Robinson: “Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.” – Oprah Winfrey
Stinson: “Above all be true to yourself, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out it.” – Author unknown