Monday, December 2, 2013

Task-oriented or Time-oriented?

How do you do school work when you get home? Are you task-oriented or time oriented? What does that even mean?

Being task-oriented simply means that you focus on the tasks at hand and work off of that list:

  1. History: Complete the worksheet
  2. Math: Answer problems 21-39, odd
  3. English: Read chapters 3-4 and write sentences for this week's vocab list
  4. Spanish: conjugate the verbs on this week's list
  5. Science: study for TOMORROW's test!
And how long does it take to complete the tasks on your to-do list? 45 minutes? 60 minutes? What does it really mean to study? Why would you stop at the odd problems? How did you do on the last test? Will that information ever be on any other tests to come?

Have you considered becoming more...

Being time-oriented means that you focus on the time that you spend, devoting your efforts to one content at a time.

  • Your parents tell you that being a student is your full time job: You're in class 45 minutes x 7 periods = 315 minutes per day x 5 week days = 1575 minutes per week / 60 minutes = 26.25 hours per week.
  • A full-time job is approximately 40 hours per week.
  • How should you spend the remaining 14 hours?
  • 14 hours / 5 days = 2 3/4 hours per day
How can you spend 2 hours and 45 minutes on school work each day after school?

  • Arrive home at 3:15, grab a snack
  • 3:30-4:00: spend 30 minutes on your hardest class, while you have the most energy
  • 4:00-4:30: spend 30 minutes on an easier class for a mental break
  • 4:30-5:00: spend 30 minutes on a harder class before dinner
  • 6:00-6:30: eat dinner (including your veggies) and ask your family about their day
  • 6:30-7:00: spend 30 minutes on a challenging class
  • 7:00-7:30: spend 30 minutes on a challenging class
  • 7:30-8:00: spend 30 minutes on the class where you're currently earning your best grades
  • 8:00-10:00: watch the TV shows you've DVR'ed all afternoon, check in on social media, tweet/post something positive
  • 10:00 shower (if that's your thing at night) and GO TO BED!
MAJOR CAVEAT: Honors and AP classes usually need closer to 60 minutes to ensure greater success.

Now, how should you spend the time that you are devoting to each class? Take your pick:

  • Complete the assigned homework
  • Re-write today's notes
  • Re-read today's notes
  • Pre-read for tomorrow's topic
  • Re-read old assessments
  • If you were assigned odd problems, try the even ones
  • Look up words that confuse(d) you
  • Check YouTube/Khan Academy for reviews of topics that confuse(d) you
  • If you still have time, do some practice problems for the SAT and ACT
  • If you still have time, read for pleasure.
Sorry; simply passing is not good enough. You need to do the best that you can do in order to maximize options for after high school.
It's fine to make a mistake once in a while; that's part of life, and a big part of adolescence. But you mustn't let your mistakes define you, and what you learn from your mistakes are a greater measure of your character than any achievement that came without effort.

By the way, this post - and the concept - was inspired by an inspiring book - Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

November update

Now that the first quarter has ended, let's check in on a few fronts.

Report cards will be distributed November 14. Please follow-up with questions about progress directly with teachers, as they are best suited to answer questions about academic progress.

November 16 will be this month's College Shirt Day, so mark your calendars!

November 18 through 22 is American Education Week. More information will be available on edline and

School counselors will meet with American Government classes from November 4 through 6 in the computer labs to complete a Career Cluster Assessment in Naviance and begin to evaluate the merits of careers in a cluster that they find appealing.
On November 26, school counselors will conduct an academic lesson in all of the Biology classes to help the freshmen understand how their quarter grades add up to final grades and how to calculate grade point averages. This is important for students to take ownership of their grades, since grades in high school are much more transparent, predictable, and permanent than in middle school.

Between November 5 and 14, school counselors will meet World History classes first in the computer lab, and then in their classrooms, to take a personality assessment in Naviance and discuss how our personality types help us make sense of the world and find careers that suit our preferences.

Between November 4 and 15, school counselors will meet with US History classes first in the computer lab, and then in their classrooms, to take a career interest assessment in Naviance and evaluate the many ways different individuals can find satisfaction in similar career types.
Starting November and ending around the second week in January, each junior will have a 30-minute appointment (either 1:30-2:00 or 2:00-2:30) with their school counselor. Students and families were informed of their appointments when schedules were mailed in July, and students will receive a reminder in advisory closer to their appointed time. Parents are invited, though not required, to attend. Juniors will get an unofficial copy of their transcript, discuss their college priorities and preferences, and school counselors will help the students start their prospective college lists in Naviance.

Thirty percent of our seniors have applied to college so far! We've even started hearing about college acceptances. The school counselors have been working very hard to honor our commitment to send out completed transcript requests within ten school days. Seniors should never hesitate to schedule appointments with their school counselors during the complicated and arduous process of college admissions. We are here to help, and happy to do so, but solutions are most readily available when concerns are raised earlier rather than later.
Once the applications are in and confirmed with the colleges, seniors are urged to turn their attention to finding and applying for scholarships. Tips are available from the "Paying for College" page on the blog, and we maintain the list of scholarships at the PHSCollegeCash document. Also, participate in the weekly #CollegeCash twitter chat for more suggestions.
Mark your calendar for December 12 at 7pm. We are hosting a MHEC Money for College event (their website inexplicably says 9; rest assured we're starting at 7, if not slightly earlier). Delegate Dana Stein will be on-hand to hear parents' perspectives on the financial aid process, MHEC's Benee Edwards will discuss the FAFSA and both federal and state financial aid programs, and Central Scholarship Bureau's Jennifer Bauer will prepare families for the scholarship application process.

About 10% of students have been asked to have their parent sign a permission slip for a video during one of the career lessons. Mr. Goldman is applying this year for certification by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, and one component of the portfolio is a 15-minute video from a lesson that he will need to critique and send in. Questions should be directed to him about the use and privacy of the videos.

Panther Prep Day

 PHS seniors learn real world skills in Panther Prep Day
By Gregory Hill
Last Wednesday, while freshmen, sophomores and juniors took the College Board’s ReadiStep and PSAT assessments, seniors at Pikesville High School walked confidently in their finest suits and blouses as they engaged in Panther Prep Day to help the soon-to-be graduates prepare for career and college.
Students in six groups rotated every half hour among six stations.
At one station, students presented their resumes and participated in a mock interview with a variety of professionals, academics, and business owners, including Mathew Death, community outreach coordinator for the Baltimore Orioles, and Robert Sarnovsky, molecular biologist from the National Institute of Health.
“The interviews show first hand the importance of having a polished resume and being prepared for a job interview,” said David Kreller, PHS School to Career Coordinator who planned the event in conjunction with school counselor Erin Murphy.  “The fact that the students receive feedback can be invaluable in students’ lives as they prepare for life after high school.”
After the interviews, the professionals rated the students and provided them feedback on their resume and interviewing skills.
“I have never been interviewed before,” said senior Shannon Nichols.  “I was kind of nervous, but when I interviewed, I realized it was like a conversation.  I now have more confidence.”
In addition to interviewing, students also participated in a career fair featuring Armed Forces recruiters, trade schools, and local businesses to offer students career advice and options.
“I liked how it was authentic, and it was a new experience for me,” said senior Dylan Alexander.
A third session, led by First Financial Credit Union, aimed to teach students financial literacy, including the realities of college debt, credit cards, and spending money wisely.
“I like the financial workshop because I learned how to be responsible in college to avoid financial ruin,” said senior Bezankeng Njinju.
A fourth session, led by School Resource Officer Joseph Goralczyk, taught students personal safety and awareness.
“I liked the safety part because I know how to conduct myself to avoid situations that put me in harm’s way,” said Bezankeng.
The seminar from the Community College of Baltimore County featured an overview to college options for students.
Finally, Kelly Yousem, a medical malpractice lawyer, vegan chef, and expert in nutrition, taught the students how to eat and live healthfully.
“We thought that it was important for students to understand what healthy eating looks like.  It is very important to their well being, academically, physically, and socially,” said Mrs. Murphy.
Jeremy Goldman, school counseling department chair, reflected on the positive outcome from the Panther Prep Day event.  He shared, “for a day that is traditionally so focused on assessments, it was refreshing to give seniors this opportunity to do something different. Because of Panther Prep Day, all of the students at Pikesville High School were actively engaged in college and career readiness, and it elevated our students’ awareness of why school is so important.”

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

College Trailblazers

Do you represent the first generation in your family to attend college?
Did you know that there is an increasingly visible movement to advocate for students who are among the first in their family to attend - or graduate from - college?
There is even a hashtag devoted to supporting College Trailblazers - #firstgen.
There is also  documentary on the topic - First Generation.

So who are our College Trailblazers, or first generation college students?
With each passing month, the definition appears to acquiesce around a simple concept: First Generation college students are those students whose parents did not attend college. The idea of clearly defining and articulating who is included in this group is to break down barriers to higher education, since the process seems to grow more complex and challenging every year, although the new common app is trying to remedy that. There have historically been clear gaps in access to higher education, along racial, gender, and class lines, and when a student is the first in their family to apply to college, certain tasks that are necessary to the process become overwhelming, especially without parents who have been through it before.

Which is why we need to expand the definition beyond simply "students whose parents didn't attend college" to include:
  • Students whose parents didn't finish college - perhaps the parents weren't equipped with the proper infrastructure prior to college, and are possibly not informed enough to prepare their children for the multitude of developmental tasks critical for college completion.
  • Students whose "parents" may have attended or finished college, but are being raised by family members who didn't attend, or who even so far as completed colleges, but well over 40 years ago when the process was entirely different from how it works now.
  • Students who are under the care of institutional systems, and therefore whose adult supervision is often too inconsistent to give daily support and guidance throughout the process, not to mention the added challenge of needing to defer to bureaucracy when having forms co-signed and paying for things like transportation and college visits.
  • Students whose parents may have attended college, but did so in other countries, where the admissions process is entirely different - some international college admissions processes are as simple as using one test score to dictate whether - and where - a student attends college. The American system is so nuanced that it is often overwhelming to parents who emigrated to the United States. Add to that the "American Dream" of taking advantage of this newfound opportunity by giving one's child the chance to go to the "best" college in the "best" country in the world, and students are caught in a quagmire.
So what do all of these College Trailblazers have in common? Drive. Determination. The will to transcend their current situation, with the understanding that they need to work to do so, but often without the resources to help navigate. ...Right up until admissions counselors review the applications. Thankfully, school counselors and admissions committees are there to advocate for our College Trailblazers. These two groups of professionals understand the obstacles facing such an underrepresented group of students, and keep looking for ways to support them through the process.

So if you are a College Trailblazer or first generation student (by any definition), the first and most critical thing to do is to identify yourself accordingly. Meet with your school counselor and discuss the challenges you face. When you interact with admissions counselors on college visits or information sessions at school, ask them what their college does to support first generation college students. Find ways on your application and essay to remind them of how being #firstgen shapes both your dreams and your experiences chasing those dreams.

Then, follow these ten steps to college attendance, in their simplest form:

  1. Do your best in high school classes that suit both your interests and skills.
  2. Study for the SAT and ACT, and take each one at least once - register before the deadline in spring of junior year.
  3. Visit colleges in sophomore year to get a sense of what you like and dislike about college campuses, then meet with your school counselor to process those priorities.
  4. Meet with your school counselor during junior year to evaluate your transcript and make a plan for visiting college campuses that meet your priorities and academic needs.
  5. Prepare your essay during the summer prior to senior year.
  6. Apply to 4-8 colleges that you and your school counselor agree are a good fit for your interests and needs. "Apply" oversimplifies the process, but school counselors can help if you meet with them regularly.
  7. Ensure that your applications (including high school transcript, letters of recommendation, and SAT/ACT scores) arrive to the colleges to which you are applying arrive by the stated deadlines.
  8. In December, request your PIN from and do the same with whichever parent you have lived with for the majority of that calendar year.
  9. In January, complete the FAFSA at using your income and the income of the parent who requested their PIN as early in January as possible.
  10. Aid letters should go out by the end of March, and commit to the college of your choice by May 1 by sending your deposit.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges through all this is the misconception that you are alone. Once you own your #firstgen status, you can begin to identify and associate with others who share your experience. Then, it's just a matter of finding mentors and peers who support you. No one is truly alone.

If you'd like to comment on being first generation, don't hesitate to tweet with the #firstgen and/or #PHSfit hashtag!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

October Update

with the exception of the 7% who were absent on certain days in the past two weeks...
Our student body has now activated their accounts at the Naviance Family Connection!
Through this portal, students can conduct college searches using many different criteria, save the colleges they are interested in and rank their interest level, and eventually request transcripts to be sent to those colleges. On the faculty side of the site, the school uses Naviance to submit transcripts and letters of recommendation to colleges where the students are applying.
One of the most popular uses of Naviance is the scattergram, which allows students to see how previous students from their high school have historically fared at popular colleges:

We will also use Naviance to help our ninth graders identify career clusters that are of interest to them, sophomores identify their Holland Career Interest Type, and juniors determine their Myers-Briggs Personality Type. Combining these three assessments helps individuals to get a clear picture of what occupational roles and tasks offer a suitable and gratifying fit for their futures.
As a special shout out, the following students have logged on more than their classmates and deserve recognition for investing their time in exploring their options for the rest of their lives:
12th grade: Kara S.
11th grade: Austin G. and Nicholas O.
10th grade: Parker B. and Ismail H.
9th grade: Waham A. and Jamie N.

With the activation of Family Connection accounts, this marks the second time that every one of our students has had contact with a school counselor, plus whatever personal, group, or lunch duty contact individual students may have had. Our goal is for students to have the chance to interact with school counselors in individual, group, and classroom settings more than ever before in the history of Pikesville High School.

Thanks to the support stemming from Twitter and the previous post, we were able to fund two iPads for the school counseling department. Students have used these iPads for SAT and ACT registration, assistance with Naviance, and have streamlined the school counselors' ability to make and log contact with students outside of the office. If you can, please contribute whatever amount you are able for the third iPad and complementary keyboard covers through DonorsChoose.

Now, for some announcements:
October 3 - college planning workshop, led by Loryn Strauzer, from the admissions office of Towson University. Mr. Goldman, assisted by Ms. Andrea Wilson (school counseling chair from Owings Mills High School), will inform parents about Naviance Family Connection and help parents activate their Naviance accounts.
The school counseling department will also hold its first-ever advisory council meeting, taking another step toward alignment with the ASCA National Model. We will have representative students, parents, community members, teachers, and college admissions counselors to provide feedback. If you would like to provide feedback on the program, please do so at

On October 16, all juniors, all sophomores, and about half of the freshmen will take the PSAT. Approximately 100 freshmen will take the ReadiStep assessment. Information was provided in English classes or directly from Mr. Goldman, and PSAT-takers were given practice test booklets so that they can prepare. The ReadiStep assessment is explicitly intended as an assessment for which students should not prepare or study.
The seniors will engage in a series of post-secondary readiness workshops. Financial planning, independent sustenance, career options, and of course mock interviews, are among the stations through which the seniors will cycle during the three-hour period when the underclassmen will be engaged in testing.
At approximately 11am, the school will resume its usual schedule beginning with mod 4 (fourth period or A lunch).

Plan to attend the NACAC Fall National College Fair on November 12 and 13 at the Baltimore Convention Center to interact with dozens of colleges and learn about the multitude of opportunities for students to find their post-secondary #PHSfit.

SENIORS and their deadlines
Now that seniors have activated their Naviance Family Connection accounts, it is crucial that they use the site regularly to get comfortable with it. While the process is posted in other places, it won't hurt to list here as well:

  1. Seniors need to submit the transcript release form, signed by parent/guardian, to the school counseling secretary. This is necessary for us to have permission to send the transcript, and Ms. Billingslea can then unlock the ability for students to request transcripts.
  2. For those who are applying using, they need to complete the Education portion (denoted with a green check), add a college to their list on CommonApp, and click on "Assign Recommenders." Read, complete, and sign the FERPA agreement. In Family Connection, type the email address that is used for the Common App account and click "MATCH."
  3. In Naviance Family Connection, add colleges to the "Colleges I'm applying to" list, and add transcript requests for each of those schools. Make sure that every common app school is included.
  4. Provide $2 for each destination to the school counseling secretary, either in cash or a check made out to Pikesville High School. 
  5. For those who need letters of recommendation (which is true for all common app schools), complete and submit the "School Counselor Recommendation request" survey, located in the "About Me" tab in Family Connection.

Once steps 1-4 (and 5, if applicable) are complete, requested documents will be sent within TEN SCHOOL DAYS. You can monitor the progress from your family connection account.
Teachers also have the ability to submit letters of recommendation through Naviance Family Connection. You should always discuss your requests with them personally, but you will need to add them in the "Colleges I'm Applying To" list with a pull-down menu to select the 1-2 teachers from whom you are requesting letters of recommendation.
Please keep your list up-to-date, so that you are able to meet (or beat!) deadlines.
Once you receive admissions decisions, please bring a copy to the school counseling office so that we can track our students' success rates at the colleges to which they apply.

As always, please feel comfortable coming in to schedule appointments with your school counselor. We are here to help.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Second-week Check-in

News and notes from the School Counseling Department

We are more than a week into the school year, and it seems like things are going well. There wasn't an overwhelming number of families who waited until (or beyond) the last minute to enroll in school, and thanks to our tripled efforts to give students more support in academic planning for this school year, we have had far fewer-than-usual issues with students second-guessing their electives or core course levels.

Between Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah, this will (hopefully) be a quiet week before we dive into classroom visits:
September 9: Ninth graders - orientation to high school and the role of the school counselor
September 10: Twelfth graders - college applications and resources
September 11: Tenth graders - Hitting your stride in high school and setting goals
September 12: Eleventh graders - Understanding the importance of junior year

During those classroom sessions, we will introduce the students to a new initiative we are establishing this year, based on responses on our needs assessments, which we are calling "Transition Tuesdays." Many students feel the need to talk about things that they are experiencing, but are not always comfortable missing class to do so, and can't find an appropriate way or place to discuss them. Therefore, we will hold an open group every Tuesday during students' lunch periods, to process transitions that they are experiencing (grieving the loss of a loved one, the separation of a family, new arrivals to Pikesville, or preparing for new challenges, etc.) Students just need to come to the conference room during their lunch shift on Tuesdays. If this ends up drawing a larger crowd than anticipated, then we'll make alternative plans.

If you haven't yet, please complete this year's needs assessment survey so we can identify areas of strength and potential at - anonymity is completely optional.

Between September 20 and October 2, students will activate their accounts at Naviance, a college and career planning portal with which BCPS just began a multi-year contract. Naviance is how we will submit transcripts and recommendation letters to Common App members and other colleges.

Upcoming events, so please mark your calendar:
October 3 at 7:00pm: College Planning Workshop in the PHS Library - this is planned to be facilitated by our admissions representative from Towson University, Ms. Loryn Strauzer. If time permits, parents can also get their personalized Naviance access codes.
November 12-13: NACAC College Fair at the Baltimore Convention Center
December 12 at 7:00pm: Financial Aid information night, with Dr. Benee Edwards from MHEC  (to explain FAFSA) and Jennifer Bauer from Central Scholarship Bureau (to explain scholarships).
February 6 at 5:00pm: #PHSfit College Fair with planning workshops. Expect the cafeteria to be a flurry of activity with college admissions representatives from dozens of colleges in our region, as well as college planning workshops presented by local college admissions consultant Craig Meister from Tactical College Consulting.

One feature in Naviance is the ability for students to sign up for information sessions with college admissions recruiters. Many of our visits that are scheduled for the fall have already been posted to the edline calendar. Students may come see Ms. Billingslea in the school counseling office to sign up for information sessions until their Naviance account is active. After that, we ask that students sign up prior to the day before the visit so that Ms. Billingslea can make a hall pass for teachers to allow the students to leave class.
The following college information sessions are already scheduled:
September 18: Bryant University (10am)
September 19: Dickinson College (8:30am)
September 23: Ithaca College (8:30am)
September 25: Elizabethtown College (9am)
September 26: Washington College (10:45am)
September 27: Stevenson University (9am) and American University (1pm)
September 30: Towson University (8:30am)
October 1: Tufts University (11am) and Muhlenberg College (1pm)
October 2: McDaniel College (9:15am)
October 3: High Point University (8am) (by this point, all students should be signing up in Naviance)
October 7: Goucher College (1pm)
October 8: Washington University of St. Louis (9:30am)
October 15: University of Southern California (12pm)
October 22: George Mason University (1pm)
October 24: Lycoming College (9:30am)
October 30: Albright College (9am)

October 25 will be this year's administration of the ASVAB, an assessment that is used for college planning, and also is required for those who plan to enlist in the military. Students who take the ASVAB are under no obligation to enlist. Sign up on Naviance.

October 16 will be a very big day, and is worthy of its own blog post. Until then, know that ALL PIKESVILLE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS will be engaged in college and career readiness activities. The 9th graders will take the ReadiStep, the 10th and 11th graders will take the PSAT, and the 12th graders will have their annual Senior Mock Interview Day (SMID) and other college and career planning exercises.

As always, don't hesitate to email or schedule an appointment to discuss any questions or concerns. We are very proud that our proactive efforts are having their desired impact, which allows us the opportunity to provide more schoolwide programming to benefit all students.

One last note - inspired by some school counselors in other states, we are trying to raise funds for each school counselor to have an ipad so that we can be more mobile in the school and have immediate access to college and career planning resources, as well as take immediate notes of student contact. If you would like to donate to this cause, you may do so at Donors Choose. Once the first two devices are fully funded, we will work to identify funding for the third. If you use the promo code "INSPIRE" at checkout, DonorsChoose will match donations of up to $100 by September 8.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Welcome back for the 2013-14 school year!

At the risk of being fairly redundant, the bulk of this post is the school counseling department's contribution to the school's summer newsletter. Think of this post, then, as a sneak preview.
That said, here is one exciting development not contained therein:
Homeroom assignments will be different this year. Rather than staying in first period for a designated time to take attendance and review morning announcements, students will go to a grade-level specific homeroom. These advisory groups are intended to reflect the visible and invisible diversity of our school's population, to allow students the opportunity to better know peers with whom they may not share classes. The advisory groups will also give students the opportunity to have regular conversations with a teacher who does not have academic authority over them. This will give students the chance to develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with caring staff while they are at school.

Without further ado...

Welcome back to school, from the School Counseling Department!
We do not have any staff changes from last year, but Mr. Goldman will have a full-time intern, Ms. VanBuskirk, from Loyola University Maryland, during the fall semester. Students should continue to see, and parents should continue to call, Ms. Billingslea, the School Counseling secretary, to schedule appointments, as she has access to all of our calendars.
If you have not yet seen it, please check out (and subscribe to) our blog at Also, if you are on twitter, follow us at These are two resources where you will hear about opportunities and insight as you navigate the high school experience.
All stakeholders – teachers, parents and students of all grade levels – are asked to complete our annual needs assessment survey at so that we can get a sense of how we are doing and how we can improve the services that we provide. This year, we will work even harder to bring our comprehensive school counseling program to the breadth and quality that is recommended by the American School Counselor Association, and we can’t do that without your input as a community.
On July 9, the Board of Education of Baltimore County voted to approve a five-year contract with a new college and career planning service called Naviance. If you have any friends who have attended Owings Mills High School in the past ten years, ask them how much they love this website. All students and parents will have access to this site, and there is even a mobile app. We have not yet had formal training, but you can anticipate seeing and using this site in the very near future. Naviance will replace, and vastly improve upon, the services and resources that were provided in ConnectEDU.
This year, we will begin offering a weekly open group counseling service called “Transition Tuesdays.” Students who are experiencing some type of transition like loss of a loved one, concerns about changes in their lives, or other issues that they would like to discuss without missing class time are invited to a weekly group during their assigned lunch shift on Tuesdays. Like any group, it is important to maintain the confidentiality of the participants for trust to be possible.
Last year, we started the #PHSfit College of the Day project, when a different college within six hours’ drive was featured on twitter and the morning announcements. This year, we will move to a different career each day, and also plan to post the career’s description on the blog.
If you haven't already heard, families who qualify for free and reduced lunch are eligible for a reduced rate on high-speed internet access from Comcast. Call 855-846-8376 or visit for more information.

This is a critical time in a student’s life. Without a comfortable and successful start to high school, students find it challenging to get re-centered at a later point. Remember that the college admissions process starts on the first day of ninth grade, as each quarterly grade affects your final grades, and colleges will see those final grades from freshman year. Each final grade you earn freshman year has the same impact on your GPA as each final grade you earn junior or senior year. Success tends to have a snowball effect. In addition, it is really important to get involved in a few activities that interest you. You don’t need to spread yourself too thin, but the point is to find people who share your values and priorities, and joining a club with like-minded people will help you make and strengthen connections with your peers in high school. It is recommended that you stay after school, either for coach class or with a club, at least twice each week. We also recommend that you spend at least 20 minutes on each academic subject each evening. This time can be spent doing the assigned daily or long-term homework, rewriting class notes, studying those notes, and pre-reading course material so you’re ready to participate in class the next day.
All students in grade 9 will be given the Accuplacer, which is a precursor to the PSAT. More information will come in September. The test will be given on October 16, and students who are late to school will not be permitted into the test.
In the winter, students will begin to craft their four-year plans with their school counselor, as part of the course advising process.

Sophomore year is a time to hit your stride. If your freshman year grades are below a 2.0 average, you’d need sophomore year grades above a 3.0 to just break even at a 2.5 GPA. The higher GPA you have, the more options you’ll have for after high school. Sophomore year is the time to start visiting a few colleges so that you can develop a sense of priorities when you begin the planning process with your school counselor. Pick one or two of the activities you joined freshman year and start to pursue leadership opportunities within those organizations. Or start a new organization! October 16 of sophomore year is when you’ll take the PSAT at no cost to you, and your score will give you some early indication of your readiness for college and AP courses.  We will discuss your scores in December.
Later in the winter, when sophomores meet with their school counselors for course advising, we will update your four-year plans.

In the past, we have conducted college planning sessions upon request. This year, we will do more than that. Each junior is going to be assigned a pre-scheduled time, either 1:30 or 2:00, to meet with his or her school counselor, during the 2nd quarter. Parents are invited, but not required, to attend this session. Your school counselor will give you a copy of your high school transcript, listen to your priorities (so be sure you’ve started thinking about it) for post-high school planning, and give you some feedback and tips so that you can be proactive about finding the right academic fit after you graduate.
On October 16, you’ll take the PSAT, which is your last unofficial exposure to college admissions testing, so be sure that you take advantage of this opportunity for meaningful feedback, and use that feedback as you prepare for the SAT and ACT, which really starts for you in January.
Baltimore County Public Schools anticipates another school-day SAT like we had last year, but we do not yet have details about how it will be implemented this year. You will be notified when more information comes to light.

Welcome to the busiest year of your life so far. In addition to your regular course load, you will spend this year applying to post-secondary programs and scholarships, and you should take advantage of as much down time as you have to both proactively complete these tasks and rest to recharge your batteries. Before school starts is an ideal opportunity to work on your college essays. If you have not already done so, finalize your list of colleges, which should be between five and ten. Activate your account at and/or and be sure that you are registered for your second SAT or your first ACT. The school counseling department will meet with you in your English 12 classes to orient you to the new Naviance platform for requesting high school transcripts. Be sure to give your teachers and school counselor at least two weeks’ notice, with proper documentation for requesting letters of recommendation and for processing transcripts. Scholarship opportunities are regularly updated at and you should also use twitter to participate in the weekly #CollegeCash tweet chat about financial aid.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Reflections from the American School Counseling Association Conference

For those of you who follow the department's twitter feed (if you aren't yet, why not?), you may have noticed a few tweets lately with the hashtag #ASCA13. These are in relation to this year's annual conference of the American School Counselor Association, which has offered many wonderful opportunities for professional development and networking.
In addition to building contacts with some inspiring colleagues, I've also been (re)introduced to numerous resources:

However, the most important aspect of the conference has been the keynote and breakout sessions. Here are some highlights:

  • Chef Jeff Henderson shared his inspiring story about making poor choices as an adolescent and young adult, taking responsibility for his actions, and working hard to learn the ways and means of success in the adult world.
  • An elementary school near Philadelphia shared their experience with improving the overall performance of the school by providing opportunities for social justice, especially by incorporating more parent involvement into the success of the students.
  • Building networks of shared responsibility among all stakeholders is critical for a school's success.
  • A freshmen in transition program to help students get through this especially challenging year, through mentorship, checklists, and vibrant lessons.
  • offers valuable resources to help identify gaps in equity and college access.
  • Students whose parents did not attend postsecondary education are an increasing population, and there is no easily attained method for identifying this group, who already are at a deficit because they don't think about themselves as first-generation college students. PLEASE, if this is you, do not hesitate to inform your school counselor so that we can walk you through the process.
  • David Marcus, the author of "Acceptance," talked about his observation of the value in school counselors, because they (we) treat otherwise-discarded students as human beings. This is only possible when school counselors are in schools (unlike what is happening in Philadelphia schools) and with manageable caseloads (unlike what is happening in most of California).
  • A rich discussion about the value and impact of a comprehensive school counseling program that is Recognized as an ASCA Model Program (RAMP). We are going to try to get our program up to this level in 2013-14 with a goal to apply for RAMP in either October 2014 or 2015.
  • A presentation of many exciting and interesting visuals for captivating lessons to help keep freshmen engaged and understanding the importance of their first year of high school, especially understanding how different it is from middle school.
  • A detailed and in-depth conversation about the eligibility criteria for aspiring college student athletes, with an introduction to the more rigorous standards for students who are going to graduate from high school in 2016.
  • The last day will include a session on early-warning indicators for at-risk students, and a keynote presentation on aggressive behavior in girls, by Rachel Simmons, author of several books on this pervasive and frustrating issue.
Thank you to the BCPS Office of School Counseling for the opportunity to attend this conference, where so much professional development is possible.
Regardless of what career(s) you pursue, you should get involved in your professional association for the purposes of support and development. We are always growing. There are quite a few veteran school counselors who are in attendance and have been just as energetic about the opportunities for challenge and growth.
Post-secondary education of some sort may be your goal for high school, but it should definitely not be the end of your growth. In fact, there are many indicators pointing to how necessary it will be to have the skills and adaptability to evolve as a learner. Just think about how many careers are booming right now that were not even conceivable just 15 years ago.
Please help us provide a more supportive and comprehensive school counseling program, and complete the needs assessment later this summer. The link will be in the summer newsletter, and posted on twitter.

Friday, May 3, 2013

College App Boot Camp

Announcing Baltimore County Public School's first systemwide College Application Boot Camp!
This application is for students who will be in grade 12 next year, and free for attendees.

Monday: Tufts University will do a presentation that simulates a selective admissions process and a presentation that is one part info on how highly selective admissions works that segues into practical advice on essay writing for students.

Tuesday: English teachers will work with student on writing their essays using the Common Application, School Counselors presenting on how to develop your college list.

Wednesday: (Parents invited to attend) Georgetown presenting to parents on selective admissions, MHEC presenting on state scholarships and financial aid and the NCAA eligibility requirements will be addressed.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Make a Strong Finish

The fourth quarter just started.
As a quick reminder, here is a tool to predict your final grades.
Even though each quarter carries equal weight, many subjects involve scaffolding, or what you learn fourth quarter depends on your mastery of what was covered third quarter, which was built on second quarter's concepts, all dependent upon a strong foundation first quarter.
Further, because your final exams will likely be cumulative, it will be imperative for you to work to firm up those fundamental skills that you've learned throughout the year. In many cases, your performance on the final exam can mean the difference between a letter grade. And, just so you know, one letter grade by the time you are applying to college is a matter of 0.04 on your GPA. So, if you only get that C in honors Chemistry but you were hoping for As and Bs like every other course, that single C is not going to destroy your chances at having college choices.
However, you can do your best to prepare. With 8 weeks before (anticipated) final exams (four for seniors), you have time to pace yourself so you aren't cramming at the end of the quarter. And you never really understand anything you cram. Commit to an extra hour each day or five hours per week of studying and preparation. Your fourth quarter grade carries more weight than the final exam, after all - and for those who hope to be eligible for fall sports like soccer and football, your eligibility counts on your fourth quarter grades.
This is also a time of many events.
We just finished the School Day SAT for juniors. Between random absences and our representation at the VEX Robotics competition, 184 of our juniors took the SAT today.
Tomorrow is the BCPS Student Town Hall, from 11 to 12:30. Be sure to tweet your questions to Dr. Dance by mentioning @BaltCoPS, and the school district will even relax the firewall to allow access twitter from student accounts in the computer labs.
On April 23, 24, and 25, we will conduct AP Preadministration after school in the cafeteria. This allows you to bubble in your name and other identifying information without having to take precious time out of your testing experience and test practice in AP classes. If you have registered for any AP exams, be sure to attend one of these sessions.
The junior prom will be held next weekend. Juniors, be sure to buy your tickets during your lunch shift. See Ms. Bauer for information.
AP exams will take place between May 6 and 17. With the exception of World History and those students approved for accommodations, these exams will be given at the Pikesville National Guard Armory. Be sure to arrive at least 15 minutes prior to the published start time. You are responsible for your own transportation since the Armory is so close to school. Like any other school day, when you are not engaged in testing (or in transit), you are expected to be in your classes. Like any other school day, if you arrive late to school or leave early from school, you must have a note from a parent/guardian to request for your tardiness or early dismissal to be considered for being excused. You can't just skip class before or after an exam and expect things to be fine.
The senior awards program is scheduled for May 21 at 5pm. All are invited, but those who will be honored will receive notification by mail at least a week in advance.
Lastly, due to Dr. Dance's aim to attend every high school's commencement ceremony, our May 29 graduation ceremony at the Towson Center will be held at 2pm. Ticket information is available from Mrs. Adess.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The College Secret

Shh, don't tell anyone, but here is the secret to going to college:

The colleges that will admit you, and even offer you some merit-based aid, are out there, and looking for you. There is a college out there that is looking for someone who earned your grades in high school. There is a college out there that is just the right fit for your ACT or SAT scores, or may even disregard scores altogether. You'll find a college that is looking for someone who was involved in exactly the quality and quantity of activities, volunteerism, and leadership that you pursued during your high school years. There is even a college that will admit - lo, value - you, despite or even because of the setbacks you've experienced.

All you need to do is make decisions.
If you choose to spend 7-15 hours per week outside of school working on homework and studying, you're likely to earn grades better than Cs. If you choose to spend your time away from school on Facebook and watching TV, Ds will be acceptable and Cs will feel amazing. Earning As will get you into one group of colleges, Bs will get you admitted to another group, and Cs would be a good fit at some colleges. Accepting Ds will not prevent you from going to a four-year college, it will just mean taking a slight detour of 1-2 years if you're successful at community college.

Do your best on standardized tests.
We can't avoid the inevitability of standardized tests, and it is common knowledge that some of us score higher on them than others. Practice and some coaching may have a slight impact on your score, but these interventions are unlikely to raise your SAT by more than 300 or your ACT by more than 5 points. The reality is that the larger the college you apply to, the more emphasis they place on these tests. Many colleges will consider your test scores, but not nearly with as much emphasis as your essays and letters of recommendation.

Get as involved as you want to be.
The larger schools really just concern themselves with your grades and test scores. However, the goal is more about college completion than college admission, and you are more apt to be successful in the long-term if you can demonstrate academic proficiency while balancing numerous responsibilities. Consider this as the colleges doing you a favor by ensuring that you are ready to handle the multitasking that is so necessary in the professional and adult world.
The most competitive colleges assume that you have the best scores and grades in your school, and any of the 90% of applicants who are rejected could probably be successful, but there is a greater chance of admission (and definitely a great chance at a scholarship anywhere) if you have done something remarkable with your time outside the classroom, like founding your own philanthropy, single-handedly raising your own siblings, or have a recording on the Billboard top 200.

Take your pick.
As unique (based on your socio-economic, racial, sexuality, parents' education, ethnic, religious, academic, geographic, or even political background!) an individual as you are, there are quite a few options available to you, many of which you may not have even heard of... yet. The trap is falling prey to societal pressure to pursue a college that is a brand name, either because of US News & World Report's or Newsweek's college rankings, the BCS Top 25, or the NCAA basketball tournament. In reality, there are hundreds of colleges (at least one in every state) where you could be successful, many of which may even offer you financial incentives to bring your unique perspective  background to their classrooms and campus cultures.

Meet with your school counselor early and often.
It is very important to come to your school counselor's office when scheduled to do so, and to schedule your own appointments proactively. This helps us get to know you in good times and bad. In ninth grade, this will give us a chance to hear your goals and advise you in ways to achieve those goals. In tenth grade, we'll give you feedback on your ninth grade performance and push you to advance your own agenda through challenge and rigor. In eleventh grade, we'll give you a copy of your transcript, listen to your priorities for college, and offer you a starter list of schools that might offer a good fit. In twelfth grade, we'll help you keep your sanity amid the chaos that is inevitable among applying to colleges and scholarships. We can't get you into a college that is not interested in offering you admission, but we can help connect you with one that is.

Monday, March 4, 2013

What are you doing this summer?

It is definitely NOT too early to ask what you are doing this summer.
Some students are showing great responsibility by coming to the school counseling office to ask about references for a summer volunteer experience, or leads for a summer job, or recommendations for SAT prep programs. This is definitely the time to plan how you will spend those two months in the summer.
Let's discuss.

It should be clear by now that regardless of what grade you are in, you are expected to increase the level of rigor in your high school program from each year to the next. That said, you certainly deserve a break this summer, to recharge your mind, soul, and body. Nothing feels better to most of us than hanging out by (or in) the the nearest large body of water that we can find. Going out with your friends to get a snowball, Italian Ice, or ice cream is the stuff of many memories, so by all means, plan to enjoy your youth while you still can.

Realistically speaking, daily treats can get expensive and that much sugar probably isn't such a great idea, no matter how much exercise you get, unless you are Michael Phelps. So what else can you do with your time to keep your life moving toward your eventual college and career goals?

You can find examples of these and other summer opportunities at

For those who are at least 16 years old, welcome to the world of the potentially employed. There really is no trick to getting a job. Ask everyone you can find about if they know of anyone who is hiring (these tips are called "leads") and pursue those opportunities. Use your spring break and walk everywhere within a reasonable distance from your home and/or your parent/guardian's place of employment. When you enter a potential place of employment, politely and respectfully ask for the manager, assertively introduce yourself by first and last name, and ask the manager (or owner) if they are hiring. Whether they are or not, you should ask for an application, just in case things change. By presenting yourself in a mature manner, and introducing yourself, you make a lasting positive impression that they will hopefully remember. Take the job application home to complete. Complete it accurately and thoroughly with your (not your parent's) best handwriting, then promptly return the application to the business, ideally to the same person you met the first time. It may help to take a pencil with you to lightly write the name of the business on the job application so you don't get them confused. 
If you are not yet 16, don't expect much from the business world. Even though you are legally employable, most companies have rules about hiring under 16 (or even 18!). Don't lose hope, however, Teens at 14 or 15 can sometimes get jobs as a mother's helper or as an apprentice for a small and locally owned business.
It will help (or be necessary) if you aspire to babysit, lifeguard, or have any contact with children, to be certified in CPR and First Aid. You can find a certification class at area community centers by checking with the Red Cross or American Heart Association.
Unless you are paid by a family, you will need to obtain a work permit for your employer to keep on file. The process for completing this is to 1.) Download the form from the Maryland State Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation. 2.) Complete your portion, your employer will need to complete their portion, and then ask your parent/guardian to sign it. 3.) Enter the required information at the website listed on the form and print the online receipt. 4.) Bring the completed form and the printed receipt to one of the secretaries at school. 5.) Take the completed form back to your employer to keep on file.

Money is nice to have, but you will have the rest of your life to work. Giving back to your community is an excellent way to pursue your values and support a cause that you believe in. In addition, you are required to complete 75 pre-approved student service learning hours as part of the requirements for a high school diploma. Ms. Slingland in room 209 hears about service learning opportunities every week and posts them on the bulletin board outside Room 120. You can also search the Baltimore County Volunteer website for other leads on service projects. Remember, in order for a service project to count on your school record, you need to have Ms. Slingland's preapproval, since he has to ensure that it meets MSDE guidelines.
Aside from thinking about graduation, volunteerism is a great way to show engagement in your surroundings with the eventual hope of admission to college or earning scholarships. Whatever service project you pursue, the most rewarding (both intrinsically and extrinsically) ones will be the ones that are meaningful to you, either due to your political or social values, or because they help you heal some earlier wound in your past, or help you "pay it forward."
Just watch for deadlines, since some volunteer programs have application and interview processes.

In addition to volunteering, having so much time during the work day allows you the chance to shadow a professional in a field you are considering for a career. This does not need to be a season-long event. Sometimes just a week will give you enough of an idea of how much (or how little!) you would enjoy a particular job. Some internships are paid, some require applications and interviews, so be sure you call ahead and make arrangements well in advance to ensure that this idea is permitted at any given work site.

All school year, you are assigned reading on a weekly basis, and the summer is the perfect opportunity to find literature that you really enjoy. Your comprehension skills will stay strong (or even grow), your vocabulary will strengthen, and your world will expand. All we suggest is that you choose books that are appropriate for your grade or reading level. High School students are not likely to be challenged by re-reading Harry Potter. Ask a librarian for suggestions, or use some suggestions from a simple web search.

Even though college campuses will be quite empty, if summer is the only time you can get on the road with your families, it is best to take advantage of an opportunity when one presents itself. You can use Smart College Visit to help you plan, but even a simple google map search will show you colleges in the area of any destination and you can schedule campus tours from the schools' websites. Take plenty of pictures and notes along your way, so that you can reflect upon your experience with your family and your school counselor to help you make informed decisions about a good college fit.
In addition to low-key visits, you can also pay for week-long and extended college programs that incorporate social opportunities and college tours, such as Summer Discovery

In fact, you can even incorporate your campus exploration into the chance to earn college credits. Most colleges have summer programs for high school students. The hard part is deciding which college you want to try and which summer program you want to pursue. This option is of particular benefit for the aspiring student athlete, since you have the chance to be mentored by college coaches in your chosen sport.

This is most beneficial for rising juniors and seniors, but it is an important task for college planning. Preparing for these tests can be achieved through any number of avenues, and the key is to find the method that makes sense for your own motivation and budget. You can use the free online access granted from your PSAT Score Report. You can pay $30-$50 for a book (or borrow one from the library) with practice tests and questions with some tutorials.  You can enroll in a course at the community college. You can take a course through (for example) Kaplan, Kumon, Sylvan, Huntington, or Princeton Review, or even find someone to tutor you individually.

However you spend your summer, after you get over that initial period of sleeping until noon, you will be looking for constructive and productive ways to spend your time. With as many as ten weeks away from school, this is a tremendous opportunity to create lasting memories. Make it a summer you won't regret.