“In order to help our children overcome challenges, counselors play the most pivotal role in our school system,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in his welcoming remarks at the UFT’s 13th annual Guidance Counselors Conference on March 18 at union headquarters.
The more than 200 participants were eager to attend workshops on special education advocacy, college assistance, bullying, supporting transgender and gender-non-conforming students and more. They also checked out exhibits by more than 30 vendors.
“I loved this, and I think we need more of it,” said Yolanda Cepeda, a bilingual school counselor at MS 302.In the workshop on advocating for students with disabilities, presenter Jean Mizutani of INCLUDEnyc talked to guidance counselors about how to handle Individualized Education Program meetings, speak to parents and decode information while serving as a special education advocate. One participant said many parents don’t realize that a school counselor can be a valuable resource, especially for children with disabilities.
The great thing is “we are in a position to offer assistance,” said Tameka Harrison, a guidance counselor who is working as part of the city Department of Education’s Single Shepherd initiative that pairs students with counselors or social workers.
During a lively presentation about the adolescent brain, keynote speaker Terence Houlihan, a school counselor and adjunct professor at Lehman College, CUNY, presented research findings about how adolescents process information and its impact on emotions and performance. Houlihan also talked about the possible association between higher sugar intake and early puberty in girls.
Anthony Seriki, a first-year counselor at East River Academy on Rikers Island, said he found the workshop on bullying informative. He said he was stunned to learn that some elementary school students as young as 9 years old use social media applications to send or receive demeaning messages.
“I have a lot of crisis management issues, so I’m definitely going to go back with some techniques I’ve learned,” Seriki said.
Chevanne Scott, a counselor at Crotona International HS, said her first year has been rough, but she’s learning as she goes along. “Sometimes you can get distracted,” Scott said. “I’m hoping to learn a few things here that I can bring back to my school.”
Guidance Counselors Chapter Leader Rosemarie Thompson spoke about the origins of the chapter 13 years ago. “I always say we grew out of really hard times,” she said. “We were struggling for recognition and professional development.”
Thompson said her goal in organizing the annual conference is to help counselors feel they are not alone in their work.
“I hope it shows them that they are a part of a bigger group,” she said. “The union is here to provide that support and sense of belonging.”