Lakota's School Counselors Wear Many Hats

Lakota's School Counselors Wear Many Hats
Posted on 02/11/2020
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WE celebrate our counselors“Think of all the possible barriers kids might have to learning,” said Lori Brown, Lakota’s director of student services. “Think of a million reasons and that’s the million things our counselors combat day in and day out.” 

National School Counseling Week, always celebrated the first full week in February, is a time to reflect on the unique contribution Lakota’s counselors make to our school communities. From hot button issues like mental health and college and career readiness to lesser known responsibilities covering parent education and staff wellness, Lakota’s counselors are at the center of a lot of critical pieces in a student’s K-12 experience. 

Social & Emotional Learning

“Mental health and social skills have a huge interplay,” said Wyandot ECS counselor Jennifer Gillum, “and both are undeniably critical to the long-term success of every student.” 

With the recent rollout of Ohio’s new social and emotional learning standards, Lakota remains committed to equipping every staff member with the training to support students in this way. Even so, Lakota’s counselors carry the largest load when it comes to social and emotional learning. and facilitate the school-wide programming that supports self-awareness, mindfulness, conflict resolution, communication and other preventative skills that Lakota students are learning.  

Press Pause bags at Freedom ElementaryIn grades K-6, this looks like a different lesson delivered by the counselor to every classroom seven times throughout the year. Topics might range from district-directed mindsets like E+R=O (Event + Response = Outcome) and understanding your “Zones of Regulation” to breathing techniques, conversation skills or lessons in respect and kindness. “Press Pause” bags (pictured at left) are just one example of tools that our counselors make available to students in the classroom. 

“They are in that developmental stage where they are generating ideas about who they are as people and thinking about their own thinking,” Gillum said. “It’s fun because everyone is learning and working on refining these skills at the same time and all together.” 

Freedom Elementary counselor Audrey Young has established “ERO Time,” which empowers her teachers to lead weekly discussions that follow an E+R=O lesson she has developed. This is on top of her daily appearances on Freedom Television News, where she might deliver a “Mindful Moment” technique or a “Talk About It Tuesday” discussion topic.

“They get a little bit of Mrs. Young every day,” she says. 

Building Relationships & Community

At the secondary level, that focus on social and emotional well-being is just as important, but with a slightly different twist. 

“Developmentally at this age, what is most valued is relationships,” said Hopewell Junior School counselor Andria Lapthorn, emphasizing the shift to more one-on-one attention. “They are still willing to get help from adults, which is why I spend most of my day ‘triaging’ the social and emotional needs of my students.” 

West counselor Effie Jata with former student“I can’t approach any two kids exactly the same,” added Lakota West counselor Effie Jata, pictured at right with one of her former students. “Building those relationships is so delicate and the most important thing is that they feel like they can come to me with anything.”

Gillum and Young emphasized that a constant attention to community building lays the groundwork in their buildings for strong student-to-staff, student-to-student and even staff-to-parent relationships. This includes everything from culture-based programs that promote respect and inclusion to programs geared at parent education, peer mentoring and staff wellness, for example. 

A Balancing Act

Young acknowledged that her job is a delicate balance between being proactive by anticipating students’ needs and being reactive to a student who requires her attention for a specific reason. “I like to be proactive and give kids the tools they might need,” she said. “But being reactive is a blessing because it shows you what you need to work on and where you might need more programming.”  

Dedicated time, like “T-Hawk Time” or “Talk to Me Tuesdays” (pictured below) at Hopewell Junior, gives junior school students time to self-reflect, learn coping mechanisms and focus on their relationships, among other proactive measures. 

Beyond the social and emotional demands of the job, Lakota’s secondary counselors, in particular, are also balancing their responsibility to expose students to the possibilities of their future, better known at Lakota as the 4Es: Employment, Enrollment, Enlistment or Entrepreneurship. 

While Lapthorn’s work in this area may be more surface level, Jata points out that college and career counseling is a huge part of her job. “My goal is always to help my students walk into their post-high school lives with more confidence in what’s next for them,” said Jata, noting that programs like panel discussions, lunch and learns and internships facilitated by the district have given her so many more tools to offer her students. 

Connecting the Dots

student sitting with teacherWith supports like MindPeace, which provides at least one licensed on-site therapist at every school, and countless other district and community resources, Brown reminds that the job of the counselor is oftentimes to simply know what’s out there and connect the dots to meet the needs of their students. 

Counselors work closely with the school’s community liaisons, available through Butler County’s Success Program, as well as the school resource officer, nurse and even community organizations like Companions on a Journey, just to name a few. 

“I definitely consider myself a puppetmaster of sorts,” Young said. “I’m always thinking, ‘Who or what can help this student overcome whatever they’re facing or just be their very best?’” 

Making It Meaningful & Memorable

A new mascot named Perry - a stuffed falcon brought to life by Young herself - has been the source of many valuable lessons and community building at Freedom this year. 

“I need to grab kids where they are and make it meaningful and memorable for them to really make an impact,” said Young, who has leveraged the “power of Perry” to capture her students’ attention on important messages she has to share. This includes her most recent creation, “Masked Perry,” a spin-off of “The Masked Singer” that disguises a different Freedom staff member in a falcon suit every week (pictured at right). Young asks the mystery person a series of questions throughout the week before the big reveal exposes their identity. 

“Besides teaching them basic conversation skills, career exploration, and various tools to manage big emotions, it starts conversation and it promotes community,” Young said.

Masked Perry screenshotWhile the emphasis and approach might change from one grade band to the next, the driving mission at every level remains the same. 

“The more we can empower our kids to embrace their resiliency and take control of their actions and emotions, the better equipped they’ll be to navigate different challenges they may face throughout their life,” Gillum said.