Thursday, February 21, 2013

Anti-Bullying Day

Baltimore County Public Schools will hold its first system-wide Anti-Bullying Day on March 1.
In addition to individual school initiatives, students will be asked to sign a no-bullying pledge and be reminded of this pledge with a wristband that says "#TeamNoBullying."

Bullying is a pervasive problem that we must all continue to work together to overcome. It is something that everyone endures, but few have been willing to stand up and intervene. While there are legal definitions for bullying, we cannot forget that perception is reality, and that if a person feels victimized, then the damage is done, whatever a third party wishes to call that damage. And the damage is often more than hurt feelings. When we feel these feelings, it increases our blood pressure and causes muscle tension, loss of sleep, changes in appetite... the levels of stress impact physical health as well as mental and emotional health.

Name-calling, teasing, exclusion, slander, sarcasm, "throwing shade," physical harm... the list can go on for days; bullying looks like many things to many people.

However, with this being a school counseling blog, this post will focus more on solutions than on the problem. It is clear to everyone that there is a problem, and we all have experienced bullying of some degree at some point, we know how it feels, and we would like to do more. So let's talk about what we can do about it.

Be a positive individual. Dole out praise to other people, express gratitude for their presence and participation in your school and your life. Show appreciation, as it may take every ounce of their strength to even come to school. Accept people for who they are, not what they can do for you. Remember that our society is built on caring for each other, and the collective grows stronger when every participant can improve upon their current situation.
In the wake of the shooting at Perry Hall High School, even one of our local heroes, Ray Rice, posted on his Facebook page:
 " when you go to school...Sit with someone who is alone at the lunch table, befriend the new kid in class, lend a helping hand, make it a point to be kind, and if you see something that is not quite right, say something!! You can be a HERO to someone, just by being their FRIEND!"
When you are online, practice responsible digital citizenship. Being a responsible digital citizen includes being personally safe by not putting yourself in dangerous situations. Additionally, as it relates to this conversation, to borrow a term from counseling, being a responsible digital citizen means that you employ beneficence and nonmaleficence. When texting, tweeting, or posting on Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media, keep your posts positive and without intent to harm. The internet is a virtual arena for people to interact. Even though you can't see other user's faces when they read your posts, that doesn't mean they are not there. Only post things that you would want your grandparents, future bosses, and perhaps your own eventual children to see. If your ten-years-from-now self wouldn't be proud, then keep it to yourself.

Assist your classmates who seem to be struggling. Listen to them. You don't need to solve their problems, but even taking a moment to listen to them is often an improvement over their previous experiences. The goal is to offer hope. If and when things get too intense, don't get alarmed. Just encourage them to also talk to an adult, and make sure that you go straight to a trusted adult to inform us, so that we can assist.
When you overhear someone being rude in the hall or in class, stand up and say something to the aggressor. Disarm them with kindness. Deflect the attention in some way - you don't need to get violent, just change scene. If that means directly confronting the person in a nonviolent way, great. It may be easier to loudly change the subject, or do something silly to distract the crowd's attention. It may serve a double benefit to overtly support the victim. The goal is to keep the environment positive. It may take tremendous courage at first, but remember how much courage it must take a person to even come to school, knowing that someone is bound to pick on him or her during 6th period. Some students even have to endure going home to emotional abuse or neglect that could be worse than what they experience in school. You never know what the person next to you really feels.
Please take the time and care to be considerate to everyone in your life. Being kind is so much easier than being rude and mean. Not to mention, you never know when you may need that favor repaid.
So, think about your role in the bullying "relationship." Is it possible that you are the perpetrator? Take a minute and think about how you interact with your peers and how that may be received by them. Are you a bystander? Are you afraid to stand up, for fear that you will also be targeted? When more bystanders do something, the act of bullying will no longer be accepted. Are you an ally? Develop that leadership and encourage others to stand up for the downtrodden. Are you a victim of bullying in any way? What resources are you using to care for yourself? Talk with your parents, school counselor, watch the videos below... do anything to keep yourself moving forward. High school is temporary, and the more you can do to keep yourself looking forward to emotional freedom, the less time and energy you'll spend focusing on the present.

This next video playlist is from journalist Dan Savage's It Gets Better Project. It is an example of many adults who have come through the struggles of coming out as being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, first to themselves, and then to others. The clear theme is that as hard as it is to be a queer teen, if you can get through this period of your life, it will get better.

Life doesn't always get better on its own, however. It takes great determination, patience, and - most importantly - the support of other human beings who sincerely care.

We are all in this together. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

College Fairs

Now that we have passed the #PHSfit college fair, let's talk about two college exploration opportunities in the near future, the CCBC/BCPS College Fair, and CollegeWeekLive.

CCBC/BCPS College Fair
At this event cosponsored by the local community college and our school district, over a hundred college admissions representatives from colleges as far away as Hawai'i will be on-hand to provide information and answer questions. This is a two-night event, with CCBC-Essex being the site on March 4, and CCBC-Catonsville being the site on March 5. In both cases, the event lasts from 6 to 8pm, parking is free and plentiful, and the location will be clearly designated (the largest building on campus, the athletic/wellness center).
All families are invited to attend and BCPS school counselors will be on-hand to lend their expertise if you have any questions. To prepare, you are advised to print the list of suggested questions to ask at a college fair, from this blog's college planning page. Also, it will be helpful to print off several pages of labels with the following information:

  • Student's first and last names
  • Student's phone number and email address
  • Student's mailing address
  • Student's intended major (it's okay to be undecided!)

Alfred University
Antonelli Institute*
Arcadia University
Art Institute
Baltimore City Community College
Bethany College
Bridgewater College
Bryant University
Cabrini College
Campbell University**
Capitol College
Carlow University*
Case Western Reserve University
Catawba College
Cedar Crest College
Chestnut Hill College**
Christopher Newport University
Clarkson University
Coastal Carolina University
Concord University
Coppin State University
Corcoran College of Art and Design
Davis & Elkins College**
Delaware Valley College
Duquesne University*
Eastern University
Elon University
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Emmanuel College*
Fairleigh Dickinson University
Fairmont State University
Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising
Ferrum College**
Flagler College
Florida Institute of Technology**
Frostburg State University
Full Sail University
Garrett College
George Mason University**
Goldey-Beacom College
Goucher College
Hampton University
Harrisburg University of Science and Technology
Hawaii Pacific University
High Point University
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Hood College
Immaculata University*
Iona College
Johns Hopkins University
Johnson & Wales University**
Juniata College**
Kean University
King’s College
La Salle University
Lasell College*
Lebanon Valley College
Liberty University
Limestone College
Longwood University
Lycoming College
Manhattan College
Marymount Manhattan College*
Massachusetts Maritime Academy
McDaniel College
Methodist University
Millersville University
Mount Holyoke College**
Mount Olive College
Mount St. Mary’s University
Neumann University
New Jersey Institute of Technology
New York Institute of Technology*
Norfolk State University
North Carolina A&T State University
North Carolina Wesleyan College
Notre Dame of Maryland University
Old Dominion University
Pace University
Penn State University
Pfeiffer University
Radford University
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Roanoke College
Rochester Institute of Technology
Roger Williams University*
Rowan University
Rutgers University**
Saint Francis University
Saint Peter’s University*
Savannah College of Art and Design
Seton Hall University
Seton Hill University**
Shenandoah University
Shippensburg University
St. Andrews University
St. John’s University
St. Mary’s College of Maryland
St. Paul’s College
St. Vincent College
Stevenson University
The College of New Jersey
The University of Scranton
Towson University
Trinity Washington University
Tuskegee University
United States Coast Guard Academy
United States Merchant Marine Academy
University of Baltimore
University of Bridgeport
University of Maryland Baltimore County
University of Maryland College Park**
University of Maryland College Park Air Force Academy
University of Maryland Eastern Shore
University of Mary Washington
University of Nevada, Las Vegas*
University of New England
University of New Haven
University of North Carolina at Greensboro
University of Northwestern Ohio
University of Pittsburgh*
University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg
University of the Sciences**
Ursinus College
Vassar College*
Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology
Virginia Commonwealth University
Virginia Military Institute
Virginia Tech
Virginia Wesleyan College
Wagner College*
Washington & Jefferson College
Washington College
Wentworth Institute of Technology**
West Chester University
West Virginia State University
West Virginia University
West Virginia University Institute of Technology
West Virginia Wesleyan College
Wheeling Jesuit University
Widener University
William Peace University
Wilson College
York College of Pennsylvania

*          CCBC Catonsville Only
**       CCBC Essex Only

For a humorous and often sarcastic - though not unrealistic - take on what NOT to do at a college fair, browse the "Admissions Problems" blog, facebook, and twitter posts.

Second month of blogging

This blog has been "live" for two months, and there is already growth:

The second month saw 2000 page views (up from 1,395 during the first month).
That's an average of 66.7 page views each day. (up from 46.5).
Our international outreach continues to expand beyond our borders to Sweden, United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, India, Russia, France, Thailand, Australia, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Israel, Hungary, Indonesia, and the Ukraine.

Actually, one blog post seems to have gone somewhat viral in Sweden: the This Too Shall Pass post seems to be quite popular over there.

Aside from that, the most-seen post was about National School Counseling Week, most likely due to school counselors looking for ideas to celebrate school counseling.

The most popular page is still the About/Contact page.

Word must be spreading. College counselors and admissions counselors are commenting about the blog's resources, which is great news. Even more important is that students are using it. A parent at the college fair really appreciated the information that is available here. So, please, post the link on your Facebook and twitter accounts. Is it possible to share URL's on instagram? Spread the word about the resources that are available from your school counseling department.

Even better than perusing resources is coming in to talk and listen to your school counselor. Let us get to know you and get to know us, as well. The more we understand your values, priorities, and goals, the better services we can provide for you.

Possible snow days aside, we are heading into one of the longest stretches of the school year, with President's Day as the only planned day off of school between the beginning of the third quarter and spring break. Make sure you pace yourself, get plenty of rest, do your best work (nothing less, nothing more), and try and take a break on weekends. Limit your exposure to unhealthy and toxic relationships. Make otherwise responsible choices, and use your resources early and often. Remember that you are not alone.

The school counselors' schedules are booked pretty solid, with devoting 10 minutes each to 18 students per day between now and March 1 to discuss next year's course requests with students in grades 9-11. Seniors should be spending this time completing their FAFSA and applying for scholarships. Remember that the local scholarships are due March 4 and the AP exam registration fees and forms are due March 1.

Even though course requests were due on February 8 and we are meeting with students through March 1, please know that we will allow students to change their minds about their 2013-14 course requests as often as they need until June. Once school is dismissed for summer, students will not have the opportunity to change their 2013-14 courses and/or levels. Please take great care in selecting your classes for next year.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Making plans for next year

Happy School Counseling Week!
On Monday of this week, our students received materials to request their courses for next year, and watched a video made by Mrs. O'Brien-Krack and three of our esteemed curricular chairmen:

Students are encouraged to consult with their teachers to obtain recommendations for electives, since the course request forms are already populated with recommendations for next year's primary course contents and levels, based on test scores, current courses, and teachers' observations thus far this year.
The forms need to indicate seven credits, include alternates in case students' first choices are not available or are in conflict with each other, and are due back to homeroom teachers on Friday. Then, starting next Tuesday and going through March 1, every single student in grades 9 through 11 has a prescheduled appointment with his or her school counselor to discuss these plans to ensure appropriate rigor and to check on their four-year plans.
Some students have already noticed that they have the same time as their peers. This is because some students may need 3 minutes to just verify that everything makes sense, some may not even show for their appointments, and some may need at least ten minutes. To plan for that, each counselor has six 30-minute blocks each day to meet individually with three students each. We will spend this time to review the four-year plan, enter course requests into the scheduling software, and discuss any pertinent issues like testing plans or senior year requirements. Additionally, the school counselor will be available during their assigned lunch shifts to meet with any student who needs to do so.
To prepare everyone, here are a few guidelines to remember:

  • Regardless of your grade or intentions, please seek balance. You need to challenge yourself, but not at the expense of your youth and/or mental health. Make sure that you are challenged, with ample time to also pursue your extracurricular interests and family responsibilities.
  • Current freshmen and sophomores are required to have two different years of the same world language in high school for admission to four-year colleges in Maryland, regardless of what or how many credits in world language in middle school.
  • Current freshmen and sophomores are required to continue with math through senior year for admission to four-year colleges in Maryland, regardless of how difficult their math track was when they started high school.
  • We encourage students to get their fitness, engineering, health, and fine arts completed as early in high school as possible, while also acknowledging the value and integrity of other programs like multi-media, AVID, Project Lead-the-Way, and staying involved in performing arts all four years. It always comes down to the individual student's priorities and values. It helps to write out the four-year plan in order to get a sense of when and how those priorities fit together.
  • AVID is for students who are in the academic middle - students who are interested and capable of pursuing four-year college admission, but may not have the support or resources available from parents or case managers. AVID is not for students who need remediation or motivation. AVID students are expected to take honors classes in grades 9 and 10, and AP classes in grades 11 and 12. If you are prepared for that kind of challenge, ask for an application. If the AVID site team feels that you would be appropriately suited for the program, then you will be invited to join the ranks of many successful AVID scholars.
  • All students have the remainder of the 2012-13 school year to change their minds about next year's classes, as once the schedule is built over the summer, no changes will be made. Staffing decisions are made based on your requests, and it is not fair to teachers or your fellow students to pursue changes to your schedule next year. You get what you ask for, so please make sure that you are certain about what you want.
  • To help ensure proper consideration, we launched a "Get AP Fit" video playlist so students can hear about 14 different AP courses before taking the courses, so there are no surprises. View the playlist at
  • Remember that for college admissions, the priority junior year is grades and the priority senior year is rigor, to ensure both college admission and completion.
  • Current juniors who wish to have a partial schedule next year should consider several things. Such a request is not an option if service learning hours are not complete, or if there are any HSAs which you have not yet passed. Plan to be in school every day, all year. If you are eligible and wish to pursue this, be certain that it is really in your best interests. Consult with college admissions counselors and ask them in general terms what they prefer when reading high school transcripts - more AP classes, parallel enrollment at the community college, internships, or released time? You can ask them at college fairs (CCBC will hold one in the first week of March), or on campus tours, or by calling the campus and asking to speak with an admissions counselor (secretaries and undergraduate work-study students usually answer - ask to speak with the rep responsible for your geographic area). 
  • Whatever plan you pursue for senior year, remember that in addition to your classwork, you will also be expected to balance homework and studying with college visits and applications, and scholarship applications, all of which are quite time-consuming.
We look forward to meeting with all of our students individually, so please make sure that you arrive on time for your designated appointment. We will resume our regular schedule in March. Again, change your you mind about next year's classes as often as you want until June; after that, they are yours to keep.

Monday, February 4, 2013

National School Counseling Week 2013

February 4-8, 2013 is recognized as National School Counseling Week.

We celebrate National School Counseling Week in two ways: First, this is a chance to show your school counselor some recognition for the effort that he or she puts into helping students get the most from themselves during school, handling academic, career, and personal/social developmental needs in order to be more college- and career-ready. Second, this is also our chance to remind everyone of all that we do, to make sure that everyone uses our services appropriately and effectively, so that everyone feels supported and is working toward the same goals.

So, what are our goals?
First of all, you can click here to see the National Standards for Students that are laid out by the American School Counselor Association. To summarize, school counselors work to support students' development of academic, career, and personal/social skills. Not every element is covered every year, as there is a comprehensive perspective, understanding that there are developmentally appropriate times to introduce, and reinforce certain skills between kindergarten and senior year.
At Pikesville High School, our goals are really tailored to our school's needs. Every May, we assess the graduates' perspective of the services that were delivered to them, and we also just introduced a more basic school-wide needs assessment this past fall. Between that data and our department's observation of the types of issues that cross our desks, we develop an annual plan. Currently, we are working to close gaps in equity and access to rigor and higher education, give students more and greater exposure to understanding about careers, provide an earlier intervention for students to have a successful transition to high school, and better empower students to independently make responsible choices about their courses, academic rigor, and post-secondary options.

How do we achieve these goals?
By removing perceived obstacles to the school counselors, students feel more welcome to make appointments with their school counselors. We have had a dramatically increased presence in the hallways and classrooms through random check-ins and conducting classroom lessons that are consistent with the ASCA National Model, and students have responded by feeling more comfortable approaching us. The introduction of the @PHSCouns twitter feed and this blog provide access to the messages that we wish to send, even to students who may not yet feel ready to physically come to the school counseling office or are not able to process the information through traditional classroom or office-oriented methods. Through the introduction of the #PHSfit "brand," students are introduced to the idea of making decisions that make sense for each individual, free from undue influence of some peers, parents, or marketing. Students have to do what is right for them, taking into consideration their abilities, their interests, and their goals. This #PHSfit culture shift is best characterized by the College of the Day project, introducing students to a new college each day of the school year.

How can you recognize NCSW?
Mr. Goldman, Mrs. Murphy, and Ms. Price (or your school counselor, if you are checking in from another school) choose to be school counselors because that is our calling. We love our jobs because of the variety of tasks that we handle on a daily basis, and the diversity (both visible and invisible) of students with whom we get to interact. If you wish to recognize National School Counseling Week, some ways that you can do so is with a quick note of thanks, or an email, or a picture (is that too juvenile for high school?) expressing how a school counselor has helped you. You may also wish to take your recognition beyond that direct interaction and let a figure of higher authority know how much your school counselor has done for you. Tell your administrator what you think. Write a note to a district administrator (Our own superintendent has even requested funding to add six school counselors to the district for next school year). Tweet your positive thoughts or post them on facebook. Write a letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun or the Patch. Or if those ovations are too public, perhaps just bring up your positive school counseling experiences when you are discussing education with peers.

We are planning to honor several teachers at the February 4 faculty meeting, because we have experienced their unusual support of the school counseling program, either in conversation or in the context of their classes. We are truly grateful when students, teachers, administrators, and parents utilize our services appropriately, and we are eager to continue to do so, with your involvement and engagement. How has your school counselor affected you? Please feel free to post your comments.

National School Counseling Week Link Party!

Several school counseling bloggers around the country (and the world) are sharing their ideas for ways to celebrate National School Counseling Week, so this is a good opportunity to participate.

We are celebrating School Counseling Week by:

  • Writing the previous post about how we follow the ASCA National Model and how to recognize one's school counselor
  • At today's faculty meeting, everyone received little chocolates with the message that "Stressed" is just D-E-S-S-E-R-T-S spelled backwards, and we awarded certificates of appreciation for six teachers who we feel most support the school counseling program and use our resources most effectively: Ms. Reisner, Ms. Murray, Mr. Hill, Mr. Lancaster, Mr. McGowan, and Ms. Bress. It was an added bonus that our MDS3 (character education) committee facilitated a discussion on building supportive and respectful relationships with students (something school counselors work on all the time), and identifying both obstacles and useful tools to establish and maintain those relationships (important components of Adlerian psychology, used in the solution-focused model of school counseling). Between that, and the conversation about course advising for next year, school counseling was interwoven throughout the entire faculty meeting today! And thanks Mrs. O'Brien-Krack for the shout-out. We felt the NSCW love today.
  • We have daily announcements each morning this week with a message about resilience, support, encouragement, and reminders of the services that are provided by the school counselors.
  • This Thursday is a college shirt day and the #PHSfit College Fair, featuring 25 colleges from our region, as a lead-up to the CCBC College Fair on March 5.
  • There was conversation about a quiz game for students to guess which teacher went to a particular college, but there are already plenty of other announcements, since Black History Month is also a high priority.
  • This morning, Pikesville High School kicked off the 2013-14 course registration process, including an information session on the evening of February 5, and every student in grades 9-11 having pre-scheduled appointments with their school counselors for the next three weeks, and school counselors being available to answer questions and assist with course registration during lunch shifts during that time.
Some other recognition programs that are worth noting are accessible at:

What would you like to see us do for National School Counseling Week 2014?