Sunday, September 3, 2017

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month—a time to share resources and stories in an effort to shed light on this highly taboo and stigmatized topic. We use this month to reach out to those affected by suicide, raise awareness and connect individuals with suicidal ideation to treatment services. It is also important to ensure that individuals, friends and families have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention. nami/Suicide-Prevention-Awareness-Month

While the number of deaths by suicide in younger children is statistically small, the number of attempts in students ages 10 to 14 has increased dramatically over the last few years, especially for girls. And even if they haven’t made an attempt, there are children in every school who are thinking about suicide sptsusa.org/elementary-school  We need to think about suicide as an attempt to solve a problem of intense emotional pain with impaired skills. As counselors we need to have productive way to have a conversation about suicide with any aged student. Never assume just because a person is young that they will not attempt suicide. If a student is talking about wanting to die to a risk assessment and consult with another mental health provider. ALWAYS notify parents and document the notification even if you don't believe there is an imminent threat. Continue to take threats seriously: Follow through is important even after the child calms down or informs you or the parent "they didn't mean it." Avoid assuming behavior is simply attention seeking (but at the same time avoid reinforcing suicide threats; e.g., by allowing the student who has threatened suicide to avoid or get something to make them feel better).

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death overall so many children and families are impacted by suicide. Using "suicide death" or" death by suicide" is more helpful than saying "successful suicide" or "committed suicide." Often times family members will not tell the child that it was a suicide death. I don't think this is helpful and further adds to the stigma and shame. People bereaved by suicide often experience complicated bereavement. There can be many other feelings in addition to grief including shock, social isolation, anger and guilt. The often sudden and sometimes unexpected nature of the death can also be extremely traumatic for those who lived with or knew the person. 

There are more resources at save.org/ but these are geared toward older students. Suicide prevention programs are becoming more common in secondary schools because of the increasing number of suicide attempts. I am not aware of any aimed at elementary learners. However, it is important to get information in the hands of staff and parents about the warning signs of suicide and always #BeThe1ToAsk. That is basic mental health first aide.  

Saturday, September 2, 2017

September is Attendance Awareness Month


We use a version of this board every September to tell our learning community what time children are let into classroom so they can be ready and in their seats at 9:00 when the bell rings and we start with the Pledge of Allegiance. We really focus on pushing out the message that we want learners in school #EVERYDayALLDay unless they meet one of the criteria in our policy for excused absence (like sick with a fever about 101 or attending services for death of family member). We use messaging from this site attendanceworks We are a big Twitter use school so we use that to keep letting parents know the importance of establishing a positive pattern at the beginning of the school year. One year we piloted a program to focus our efforts on one kindergarten class. At the end of each month we sent home a thank you note to the parents who had their child in school every school day all day that month. When we evaluated this intervention the parents told us not to bother with the cards because they were "just doing their job as parents." We also did not have a significant difference between that class and our other 4 kindergarten classes. Even though it did not work we published our findings and it did send the message we are taking this very seriously.
We have students who are chronically tardy which we address through our attendance team. Once a month the attendance secretary, social worker, counselor, and administrator meet to review the data. That is when we decide who will get a letter, phone call, chat with counselor, small group, and eventually a meeting to develop an attendance plan. One of the school counseling program goals is always aimed at attendance.  Overall our school has a high attendance rate (above 96%) but each year we address the students who the prior year have been chronically absent or tardy (2 days a month), are chronically tardy, or both. 
We also look at the learners who are at risk to develop a chronic pattern of not being in school consistently. Here is a draft of our goal this year:
 By June 2018, 75% of the students who had 10 or more tardy arrivals or absences in the 2016-2017 school year, will decrease the targeted behavior.
If anyone has a success story please leave it in Comments.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Miguel A Deportation Story


Many families across our country are living under a cloud of possible deportation. There are more than 9 million U.S. children whose parents are undocumented immigrants, the majority from Mexico and Latin America. Half of these children, or about 4.5 million, are U.S. citizens — born to undocumented immigrant parents on American soil. Citizen-children and their undocumented siblings frequently live in homes in which one or both parents are undocumented immigrants.  Read more about research on living under the threat of deportation  http://www.apa.org/

This book is told from the perspective of an eight year old boy who was born in the U.S. but his parents are not in the United States legally and may have to go back to their unsafe home country. Miguel opens up about his fears to his school counselor and takes a proactive approach to his family's and others situation. This is a timely book that tires to take a optimistic attitude about a concern that is very widespread in our country today. Get this 2017 resource from youthlight.com

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Children of Divorce Intervention Program

We are trying to use evidence-based materials rather than random asks of counseling designed by all our counselors.  The childrensinstitute developed Children of Divorce Intervention Program (CODIP) that is an evidence-based prevention program specifically designed to help children cope with challenging family changes. There are separate manuals for students in K-1, 2-3, 4- 6, and 7-8. I purchased the elementary manuals for my school last Spring. The goal of the program is to a) reduce the stress of parental divorce by providing a supportive environment; and b) build skills that can help children cope with various challenges related to parental divorce. The manual proved session plans for 12-15 sessions depending on the age level. Even though I thought the curriculum I had designed for Families in Separate Homes (FISH) groups were pretty good, I am looking forward to using a program that has been proven to be effective.

Friday, August 18, 2017

School Counseling Program Annual Calendar

The ASCA National stipulates that each school counseling program develop and share an annual calendar with all stakeholders and update it regularly.  I like a simple one page calendar that I can post by my office door and easily copy and distribute where appropriate. I include the most important activities and events for the school counseling program for the entire school year.  These include monthly awareness, classroom lesson themes, small groups, and other activities like the advisory committee meetings, conferences, and analysis of data.  This calendar communicates the program's priorities and is a public relations tool that informs stakeholders about specific details like the dates of parent workshops. I update it at least quarterly and adjust for changes in planned activities, snow days that require changes, etc. I have the calendar drafted before the start of the school year so I can get important dates on the school-wide calendar and avoid conflicts.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

School Web Site


We have not gone back to school yet so I spent several hours today updating my school web page. See it here nottingham.apsva.us/counseling/ I still need to tackle the calendar and a few formatting issues but otherwise it is ready to go. The primary audience for my school web page is parents but I do have a Counselor to Counselor page.
We have to use a standard format as part of  our school's web page but after a year I have adapted. I like the Blog embedded feature. The Blog and the calendar are the parts I update most frequently during the school year. When I make a new blog post on my school web site there is a button I just click and it goes to my Twitter feed. My Blog posts are read by many more parents than the monthly newsletters I use to spend much more time writing. There are many more features I can add but last school year our school had no IT support. We have a new staff member this year for that role so check back later, I am hoping to make some improvements once I get some training and technology support.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Back to School: Part 4 - Effective Strategies for Helping Students Reduce Anxiety


Helping students with anxiety is a topic I have researched, lived, and presented on extensively. I share most of my presentations in LiveBinders so if you want to see the PowerPoint from the ASCA webinar, my state conference presentation, or from the ASCA National conference on anxiety check them out on the Anxiety, Stress, and Worry tab livebinders.com/ The binder also has links to some good articles and resources about helping children reduce anxiety.

There are new resources being developed all time to help children manage anxiety. For individuals, I begin by assessing how big a concern anxiety is for them. I do this a variety of ways but one all the students seem to favor is selecting the stone that represents the amount of discomfort their worries are currently causing them daily. I have a small pebble, a 1-2 inch rock, and a 4-5 inch rock that I keep on my window sill and bring out. I say, "you could have a little anxiety and it fits in your pocket and you only notice it occasionally, a medium size rock in your pocket that you would notice every time you moved, and a heavy rock that would weigh down your backpack." Once I know how big a problem the child perceives their anxiety issues to be I start assessing their coping tools. What have they tried so far that works to reduce their anxiety when they are stressed? What did not work? If I do see a student for ongoing short term counseling we set a goal to reduce anxiety and quantify it (for K-1 to make it a pebble and for grades 2-5 to reduce it from a __ to below 5 on a 10 point scale). I have found that students who are highly perfectionist or compulsive do not like groups and will only agree to individual support.

If possible I try to have most students with anxiety issues participate in small group counseling. It has many advantages and students  help one another as much as I help them. For groups, especially in grade 2 my students love worrywoos The books in this series are great and the website offers some good materials to create activities.I have done a whole group based on the worrywoos.  For more resources check out my pinterest/worry--anxiety-stress board. Some of my favorite picture books on anxiety are: Hey Warrior, Caterpillar's Wings, The Huge Bag of Worries, and The Worry Glasses. I generally teach a strategy each session and provide members opportunities to practice (calming exercises, deep breathing, mindfulness, etc.)

Stress is so pervasive in my school I teach a class lesson on techniques to reduce stress in grades 3-5. I think this further helps normalize anxiety issues and gives all students a few tools to self-regulate when experiencing normal stress. Since we use Second Step I use their lessons in the classroom.