BHS Counselors Provide Advice!

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Interviewees ↓
Ms. Acuff
Ms. Norton
Dr. Miranda
Ms. Stolarz
Ms. Walker
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As a secretary of guidance at Bernard’s High School, how have you contributed to distance learning?

Ms. Acuff: “While a large part of my role as guidance secretary is interaction with students and staff, I have tried to keep up with emails, transcript requests, answering Naviance questions, helping reset Naviance passwords, helping families new to the district with registration and hopefully being supportive of the counselors and administration.”

Ms. Norton: “I check emails every day to see what work needs to be done. I have also been working on entering Purchase Orders so some end of year purchases can be made and invoices can get paid. I have been in contact with some of the vendors I have ordered supplies from so they can hold on to some of our orders for when we return to school. I have been putting some of the supply orders together for next year as well. A great deal of my time has been working on scholarships, adding them to Naviance, as well as putting Scholarship Newsletters together that are on our website. I have also been working on some end of the year projects.”

 

As a psychologist at Bernard’s High School, how have you contributed to distance learning?

Dr. Miranda: “During these difficult times, it is very important for support staff to be available to students who may be struggling in a variety of ways. During remote learning, I have been reaching out to many students and have been meeting with students just like I do during the regular school day (except all virtual!). Thankfully, I am able to do much of what I do during the school day at home. I have also been helping with a lot of translations throughout the school district. Since I speak Spanish, I am able to help teachers and staff reach out to students and parents who may not speak English. With the help of teachers and staff, I also put together a video for students to let them know that we are all here for them and we are in this together!”

 

As a counselor of guidance at Bernard’s High School, how have you contributed to distance learning?

Ms. Stolarz: “During this distance learning phase, I have been responsible for checking in with students regarding their academic progress as well as social/emotional issues or concerns that they may be experiencing. Distance learning has presented many unique challenges for our student population so it has been important for me that I routinely check in with students to problem solve, offer strategies and just offer validation for the difficulties that so many of us are facing. I continue to respond to inquiries related to post high school planning or the college search process for our juniors and seniors, I have collaborated with my colleagues on meeting the social/emotional needs of students while we are apart and I have had the opportunity to participate in several webinars with colleges (information sessions), college/career planning services and mental health organizations.”

 

As the director of guidance at Bernard’s High School, how have you contributed to distance learning?

Ms. Walker: “In addition to continuing with my regular job duties, I have played a role in ensuring that the needs of students are being met. This may include counseling services, community support, providing meals, meeting technology needs, and more. I am often participating in meetings with students and parents to provide support for students who are struggling during this period of remote instruction.”

 

What are your goals to improve students’ lives? In other words, what is your vision for the future of this school?

Ms. Acuff: “My general attitude is to treat students that come into the Guidance Department in a manner that I would want my child to be treated. Hopefully, by September, we will have our students back in school in some fashion. The beginning of school in September 2020 probably won’t be like September 2019 but we will all work towards the common goal of doing what needs to be done to make BHS the best it can be….doing it together.”

Dr. Miranda: “My goal is to not only be a support for students who are struggling but to also create an environment in our school that is open to and accepting of positive mental health practices. I am hoping to create a culture in which students can talk openly about mental health issues and where prioritizing mental health and engaging in positive activities is part of our daily lives. For example, it would be great for students to incorporate strategies such as mindfulness and breathing into their daily routines.”

Ms. Norton: “My goal next year will be to help our students any way I can to deal with the challenges that lie ahead with this changing world we will be living in. Being in the Guidance department, we want to be available to help students deal with the changes, including the challenges that lie ahead for seniors applying to college next year. My son will be a senior next year as well and he will also have to face those same challenges applying to college.”

Ms. Stolarz: “My goal as a school counselor is to empower all students to reach their maximum potential by promoting an environment that encourages personal and academic growth as well as social responsibility.”

Ms. Walker: “So far, I have worked to enhance the social-emotional programming (character education) at BHS to make sure that students feel supported. I work with the counseling team to generate programming ideas and then carry them out as part of our wellness initiative. I want to make sure that students know how to get help for mental health issues so that we are being proactive instead of reactive.”

 

Do you feel that it is more beneficial to communicate with all students virtually or in-person? Why?

Ms. Acuff: “I definitely prefer in-person, face-to-face communication-with emails, and even phone calls, the facial expressions, and body language are lost. Given the choice of no communication or virtual communication, I would, of course, prefer virtual…at least there is some face-to-face.”

Dr. Miranda: “I personally prefer to speak with students in-person. Being in the same physical space with another person allows me to create a stronger connection with that person rather than just seeing someone on a screen. However, I am happy to report that virtual meetings have been working well during this time!”

Ms. Norton: “Communicating with students virtually during this time works. However, I think in-person is better. It is just more personable.”

Ms. Stolarz: “Definitely in-person. Speaking to students through phone calls or video chats limits the connections that are made in person. Although I can still pick up the tone of voice and facial expressions, virtual meetings lack full body language. It may also be hard to find a quiet, private space at home for both myself and my students making these calls somewhat disjointed and prone to distractions. And then there are the tech challenges. In one week alone, I lost power in my home 3 times making it difficult to reach out to students and parents. Simply put…I miss being present with my students.”

Ms. Walker: “My personal preference would be to communicate with students in person. However, during this pandemic, we are fortunate that there are technological resources that enable us to stay in communication virtually. Having a face-to-face conversation provides us with a clearer picture of what may be going on in students’ lives.”

 

In your opinion, what are the positives and negatives of distance learning?

Ms. Acuff: “The obvious negative is that you are “on your own” and doing everything “by yourself”. The positive is that you are “on your own” and doing everything “by yourself”! While this can be very isolating, it also affords the opportunity to manage your time and prioritize things without the time restraints of a school day.”

Dr. Miranda: “One of the main positives about distance learning has been the opportunity to spend more time with family and slow down from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. For some, this time has given them the opportunity to reconnect with loved ones. Also, I believe distance learning has made us all appreciate our school, teachers, and other students more than we ever have and has allowed us to realize just how important we are to one another. While there may be some positives, there are certainly negatives during this time. For some, this time has been very stressful between managing remote learning, dealing with home issues, sick loved ones, and the fear and anxiety that come along with a time like this. Many students and staff also struggle with a lack of social interaction. Humans are social beings and to be separated has certainly put a strain on many people.”

Ms. Norton: “Since I am not a student or teacher, I am going to quote my daughter, Claire who is a 6th-grade student. Claire said The benefit of distance learning is that you can work in the comfort of your own home. Disadvantage is, not much interaction with friends and teachers.”

Ms. Stolarz: “One positive is that students have a bit more flexibility with the A/B day schedule. Although, undoubtedly, this does require a good deal of self-discipline. Unfortunately, a negative is that this type of learning does not accommodate the many different learning styles of our students. For example, peer-to-peer interaction can be a really pivotal part of the educational experience, and unfortunately, it can fall short in distance learning. The biggest negative is the obvious lack of social interaction between students, students, and their teachers and school staff, as well as between colleagues. I guess the silver lining is that this health crisis happened at a time of so many technological advancements…Facetime, Zoom, Google Meet…I’m so happy that our students are connecting with their friends and family through these means.”

Ms. Walker: “Positives: it may allow students and staff to sleep a little later since there is no commute; it may streamline the process for students in terms of gathering most class materials from Google Classroom. The A/B schedule allows for more time to complete assignments; it forces everyone to improve their technology skills!
Negatives: It is a trickier form of communication, lacking one-on-one in-person conversations; without direct teacher access in a classroom, some students are struggling with the material and with staying organized with timelines; some students may feel more intimidated by speaking through a class conference instead of in a classroom; students do not have the in-person interaction with teachers, staff, and students; there are many modifications being made to make the remote learning work (ex: science labs are not easy to carry out at home); programs and activities have been canceled.”

 

Do you prefer to work from home or in a school setting? Please explain.

Ms. Acuff: “I prefer working in a school setting because I MISS PEOPLE! I enjoy interacting with the students, staff, and administration as I truly enjoy the camaraderie.”

Dr. Miranda: “I prefer to work in a school setting. Working from home may seem appealing, but it is actually very difficult! There are many more distractions at home (especially with two dogs, a cat, and an active toddler!). It is also difficult to separate home life with work life since it is all in the same place, which can add to feelings of stress and anxiety for many people.”

Ms. Norton: “I think there are advantages and disadvantages of both a home and a school setting. It is nice to not have to commute and rush to work every morning after I drop my kids off at school. However, I miss working in the Guidance Department and seeing the students, teachers, and co-workers. Nothing compares to actually talking and laughing with my Guidance Department team, who I consider my work family! I miss seeing Ms. Acuff’s big chair swing around when she is about to say something funny to me, which was quite often! :)”

Ms. Stolarz: “I most definitely prefer the school setting. I miss seeing my students in person, the laughter that I share with my incredible colleagues, the schedule, and knowing (most of the time) what to expect as the day unfolds. Working from home presents the challenge of staying on task while assisting my two children with their academic responsibilities, constantly stopping to make meals & snacks, and the distractions of laundry and dishes to name a few.”

Ms. Walker: “I prefer to work in a school setting. Counseling is best done in person, in my opinion. I miss my colleagues!”

 

Throughout this process, what important tips have you learned?

Ms. Acuff: “What I have learned is that it is SO important to get up every morning and prepare as if you were going to work/school, which means no pajama days! Keeping a routine is helpful and sets a positive tone for the day.”

Dr. Miranda: “One of the most helpful tips that I’ve learned during this time is that it is okay not to be productive all the time! I have found that while I had many plans to reorganize my closets and learn a new language, I have not been as productive as I had hoped- and that’s okay! I have been enjoying time with my family and have been focusing on making sure that myself and my family are all doing well. I have also learned that it is very important to still maintain a routine and schedule and that, while some days it’s okay to stay in your PJs all day, it is important to get dressed and “ready” for the day!”

Ms. Norton: “I think the most important tip that I have learned throughout this process is to slow down. We are obviously forced to slow down with the quarantine and stay at home orders. However, to use an old cliche, this has taught me to stop and smell the roses! My life was very hectic, between work, my kids school and their full hockey schedules. I often felt like I was running on a treadmill most days. This has taught me to enjoy slowing down and enjoy the things that matter most to me, such as spending extra time with my family. I have also learned to have a greater appreciation of all the freedoms I had before all of this and how very fortunate I am.”

Ms. Stolarz: “The importance of a routine. From waking at the same time each day to being sure I stop for lunch at a reasonable hour. Routines prove effective for my lifestyle.”

Ms. Walker: “I have learned how adaptable we are and I have observed firsthand how quickly a community comes together in a time of crisis. We’re all in this together!”

 

During quarantine, what have you done to keep yourself occupied in your spare time?

Ms. Acuff: “I love to knit and crochet, so I have a few projects that keep me occupied. I try to take walks every day and participate in Zoom classes from the YMCA.”

Dr. Miranda: “During quarantine, I have been spending a lot of time outdoors, spending quality time with my family, and bingeing on Netflix shows!”

Ms. Norton: “Other than work, I have kept myself quite busy. There is always stuff to do in my house and there is always something to clean! I am amazed at how quickly the days go by. I have been baking and cooking like crazy. I watch the Food Network and have made a lot of new recipes. I have even taken pictures of all the new dishes I have made and organized my recipe book. I have finally gotten to a bunch of projects around my house that I normally didn’t have enough time for. I also like to read and exercise. Most of all, I have enjoyed spending evenings with my husband and my 17-year-old son, Jack, and my 12-year-old daughter, Claire. We have been watching movies or playing board/card games at night. They even got me into watching the Netflix show Stranger Things!”

Ms. Stolarz: “I am a runner so I was disappointed when several of the races I was registered for were canceled or changed to “virtual” events. I am pleased to say that the “quarantine” has not kept me from reaching my fitness goals. I was even able to complete my third half marathon in late March while maintaining the rules of social distancing. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t binged a few Netflix shows too! And of course, spending time with my family. We take a bike ride together every night (weather permitting!).”

Ms. Walker: “While working, I am also assisting my three children with their own school work, so there isn’t as much free time as I would have hoped! We have increased our time outdoors and we often try to go on walks or bike rides.”

 

Once the quarantine is over, what is an activity that you are most looking forward to participating in?

Ms. Acuff: “After the quarantine is over, I will be overjoyed to get back to school, to plan a get-together with friends, to sit in Starbucks and have a coffee, to travel again and to once again shop!”

Dr. Miranda: “I am most looking forward to spending time with family and friends, going to a restaurant, and going to the beach. I am also very eager to get back to school!”

Ms. Norton: “Once this is over, there is a big list of things that I am looking forward to participating in. I just want to be outside! I can’t wait to go to the beach in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and feel the fresh air and the sun on my face. I can’t wait to go back to Disney World. I had some concerts that I was supposed to go to that were canceled. I am looking forward to going to those concerts once they are rescheduled (probably next year), especially my favorite band Guns N’ Roses that was going to be in July. Once fall comes, I want to watch a NY Rangers game at MSG and a NY Giants game. I will also be excited to see my son and daughter play hockey again…and not just in the driveway at home! :)”

Ms. Stolarz: “I cannot wait to get back to concerts! Live music is my passion!”

Ms. Walker: “For me, I just want the freedom to go where we want when we want, especially visiting families who are social distancing as well.”

 

What are you doing to maintain/improve physical health during this quarantine?

Ms. Acuff: “As I said in Question 7, I try to take walks every day and do exercise classes through the YMCA.”

Dr. Miranda: “In order to maintain physical health, I have been going for walks or jogs outside or exercising indoors. While some days I find myself snacking more than usual (and that’s okay!), I have also been working hard to cook healthy meals for myself and my family.”

Ms. Norton: “I have exercised every day during this quarantine. I have a treadmill, elliptical machine, weights, and a bunch of exercise DVDs to keep it fun. It makes me feel better mentally and physically.”

Ms. Stolarz: “I’m not one to sit still for long! As I said earlier, running is a big hobby of mine. Also, with gyms closed, I have made it a point to incorporate home workouts throughout the week as well. I am a true believer in the mind/body connection. As I have told many of my students during this time away from school, be sure to make time for non-screen activities. Get outside and take in the sunshine (when it is not snowing in May!).”

Ms. Walker: “As I mentioned previously, our family has gone on many more walks and bike rides than we had prior to quarantine.”