What happens when two high school girls are mad at each other, and are in the same group?
Sometimes all I think about is helping kids, teachers, and their families. Finding the right resources, creating the correct plan, marshaling a team of caring adults to foster a young student’s academic and emotional success. But what happens when an assessment reveals a student to be failing due to what is colloquially referred to as “being a teenager.”
Now, there are times when adults claim this to be true and there is in fact an underlying issue that interferes with the evaluation of the situation. However, there are also times when the student is simply unwilling to put forth the effort to achieve his or her potential. And, in “economically advantaged suburbs”, sometimes that can be a very difficult thing to accurately portray in a report and in a team meeting.
Personally, I am blunt. I believe in being direct and in holding people accountable for their actions. School systems can create an atmosphere in which the politically correct and strength based terminology that is required can cloud the real issue and allow for students to escape looking in the mirror. News reports of elementary school soccer teams that no longer keep score makes me cringe. Hours of assessment to develop a report on a 16 year old student who is not progressing when she is in fact refusing to access the accommodations already in place and wanders the halls during class time instead of coming to the psychologist’s office seems a waste.
I want to sit this student down and speak to her. Girls with cognitive profiles that are in the Superior range should not be getting Fs in the most basic level of math class. Find out if something is preventing her access, but then to outline some consequences! If these services are not being utilized, then they go away.
Sigh. Rant over. On the upside: I will not be doing a cognitive assessment for this re evaluation. I will be doing a Functional Behavioral Assessment. And I will write up my results in a strength based manner, but in terms that hold the student accountable for her own choices.
She looked for all the world like one of my young clients from last year. She spun in the chair, lifting her feet as it twirled, and grinned from ear to ear as she told me about her report card. But, instead of the gap toothed smile of a 5 year old, this was the full blown smile of a 10th grade girl.
I had some reservations moving into this year of my practicum placement. My prior experience has been primarily with elementary aged kids, and the oldest client I had ever had was 13 years old. I place a high value on early intervention, on preventing problems and finding those who need help early on to ensure the best possible outcomes. I was concerned that I would not enjoy working with older students, that I would miss the motivation of early intervention, and that I would be in over my head with their social dramas. So far, while I do miss the little ones, I am surprised by how much similarities there are across the age range, and about the added bonus of working with clients who are looking to their futures.
I have attended many meetings where there have been clients “graduating” from their IEPs, have talked about scholarship eligibility, and planned for attending college or taking a year off. It has been fun to see clients participate in their own meetings, and create a vision statement for what they would like to have in the upcoming years.
I do still miss the games of Go Fish and Poptropica. But I will certainly enjoy my year of Skyrim and Cheerleading.
I waited until my break before sneaking up the staircase to the lone free coffee machine in the building. Though I occasionally miss the days when the School Psychology program had its own building (and own coffee machine!) I have to admit that the new building has impressed me.
The technology is fantastic: large TVs directing students to classes and advertising upcoming events. The little boxes mounted on the walls outside the rooms alerting students to the occupancy status of the rooms, at the current moment and in the future. You can even book a room using the box!
One of my favorite things is the restaurant on the ground floor, Plates. The days can be long, and a good bowl of soup or a taco salad can be the perfect fuel for a dragging afternoon! The artwork that has recently found its home on the walls is vivid, interesting and bold. The large windows in every room let in a ton of natural light. The furniture is an eclectic mix of retro and modern, and yields enough space for all to study, as well as for our own games of Bananagrams.
I sometimes miss the small space we called home, that encouraged us to sit, study, eat and play together. But I am happy to see some of my friends from the other disciplines roaming the hallways and stopping by for a quick hello.
Besides, Bob’s office still has free coffee, and chocolate to boot.
The young man was very endearing in his openness and willingness to speak with me. His affect was kind and considerate, and his contemplation over the True/False section of the BASC-2 highlighted one of his greatest roadblocks to academics: he was frozen by the worry he would make a mistake, that I would judge him falsely based on his responses to the personal statements. After a brief conversation we were able to agree that instead of True/False we would look at the statements as Usually/Not Usually. The young man visibly relaxed and was able to complete the rating scale without further hinderance.
Although I only worked with this particular high school student for a brief half hour session, he was the type of client that inspires the desire to ensure that all of the hard work he is putting into his own education is sufficient to see him succeed.
This morning I had an interview scheduled with one of his teachers. The man who entered my office was engaging and gregarious. The question I posed to him was simple and straightforward: “Do you have any academic concerns about this student?” This question allows teachers to answer in a variety of ways. Some choose to harp about homework completion or class participation. Others speak of social issues that are interfering with quality work and attention. This particular teacher gave one of the best answers I have ever received. He explained, with concrete examples, some of the struggles the student was having in his class, and informed me of the supports he was giving the student. Then he said, “I am not worried about his performance in my class. Together [the student] and I will make sure he gets everything he can out of the curriculum. What I want to make sure is communicated to you and to the people assessing him is that he requires assistance in creating structure. Whatever program he chooses to attend following high school ought to be chosen with that in mind.”
It is so wonderful to work with teachers and staff who have the student’s best interests in mind, especially when they can frame it in terms above and beyond their own course.
Tagged School Psychology
I had class yesterday. It was a good class, with an engaging professor and highly relevant information. There was even hands on activities, which I usually find to be inviting.
The group of girls gabbed gregariously. There were pumpkin shaped sugar cookies and some popcorn (hint: if you want students to show up to something, feed them. Same goes for teachers) and in many ways the conversation could have taken place in any group of high school girls. Except that it wasn’t. This is the group for girls with anxiety. So, though today’s topics included venting sessions about tough teachers and finding a guy- no, wait, a TALL guy- to take to the semi, there is an openness about the way these girls interpret and feel about the everyday chaos of high school.
I was first introduced to this group by the school psychologist who had led it last year. Many of the same students would be returning, she explained, and generally it was expected that the confidentiality of group would allow these girls to talk about their problems with others who could truly sympathize and strategize with them. The initial group was interesting, loud, and very superficial. I wondered at the lack of structure or goals to the sessions. And decided to wait. Waiting is the hardest and can be one of the most valuable tools in counseling.
Today’s group, through the fistfuls of cheddar coated popcorn, was still loud. But the body postures around the room began to relax. Topics stayed the same, but the girls vocalized their feelings, and their fears about resolving the concerns at hand.
Score one more for waiting.
This week marks our last full week of classes. We are done with 9 hour Mondays, bidding adieu to our Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and beginning to look ahead to our finals and first year exam. I admit that, at the beginning of this semester, I viewed a couple of the class syllabi with outright horror. I could not begin to imagine completing some of the laborious, new, and intimidating assignments. A full case study? A Functional Behavioral Assessment? Those are the things that real school psychologists do! How can I possibly be ready to to it, too?
Looking back I almost feel as though there was some illusion, some magic trick involved. Voila! We have cast a spell and magically stuffed years of learning into your turbo charged brain!
In fact, I have put in the effort and gained skills rapidly. Importantly, however, I have done so with a little help from my friends & the MSPP community. So thanks- thanks to my cohort of wildly supportive, always willing to laugh at 6:50 pm, bagel bringing and Bananagram playing friends. Thanks to my professors, whose high level of expectations and precariously balanced workload energized our learning. Thanks to all of my advisors/supervisors, from the program director to the 3rd year intern at my field site. Thanks to my family & loved ones, and to my dog, who made it impossible to stay in any sort of work induced coma.
Cue the orchestra...
St. Elmo’s Fire is a truly terrific movie about a group of seven friends who are startled to find the transition from college to the real world to be surprisingly difficult. They must learn to break away from sheltering parents, cope with compromising ideals to pay the bills, and for the first time, truly stand on their own two feet. Many of them understand, for the first time, that they have yet to discover who they truly are.
Now, the fact that this is a Brat Pack flick in all its glory and that the 80s tunes snaking through the background is a huge bonus. But the central reason that I love this movie is that while there are numerous high school and even college angst films, Hollywood seems to ignore the truly terrifying post graduation limbo in which many of us find ourselves. What do we do now? How do we start the rest of our lives?
In hindsight, while I may not have had as much difficulty as Emilio Esteves or Demi Moore, I absolutely coasted for a few years and took my time selecting my future profession. Now, though, I am positively amazed at how far a single year of graduate school has propelled me. I feel very competent, have begun to follow my own cases from start to finish, and am happy to find that I like coming in to school in the mornings. I am making informed, educated decisions on how to proceed with each child, rather than making stabs in the dark. I think that making the decision to move forward is half the battle: once you’ve begun, everything begins to come together.
I have yet to find a Hollywood movie about a group of friends living successful, contented lives, let alone one set to 80s music. I guess viewers would find it predictable and boring- but I do hope that there is a large group of people out there who would see themselves in it!