Sunday, April 26, 2015

School Counselor Bucket List for High School Seniors

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Do you have a bucket list?  It wasn't until I got older that I really thought about all the things I wanted to do, but hadn't had the opportunity or the time.  Although bucket lists have become really popular with adults, I rarely hear teens talk about having a list of must do's before graduation. However, I recently read an article from Huffington Post that proposed students make a a bucket list for their last year of high school.

What is a Bucket List?

According to the Urban Dictionary, a bucket list is a list of activities that a person should do before he or she dies. Take the characters in the movie, The Bucket List, Carter and Edward.  Both men find themselves
Edward and Carter carrying out their bucket list in Egypt
looking at the end of their lives and feeling like they still had many experiences left. After forging a friendship, the two men decide to create a list of accomplishments they wanted to complete before they "kicked the bucket".  And quite a list they had...trips to foreign countries, eating at the finest restaurants in the world, kissing the most beautiful girl, and experiencing something magnificent.  Truly when one nears the end of a journey, the person begins to think about all the things he or she wanted to do before "the end" comes. Not only near "the end" does one think about his or her lack of  endeavors, but also during a end of a journey. For instance, I realize how difficult it can be to fit in all the activities I want to do when I go on vacation or even when I go back home to visit my family. Also, I often look back at my life and wished I had taken more chances or been a little more adventurous when I had the opportunity.
Going up?

My Bucket List

Believe it or not, I have my own counselor bucket list. Some of the items on my list can be a little serious and others are down right ridiculous.  For instance, one of my silly items is that I want to set up a mini office on the elevator and talk to the kids who sneak on the elevator.  In another item,  I want to dress up like a member of KISS with some other faculty members and lip synch Shout It Out Loud during lunch.  Okay, so it is a little strange, but these are my don't judge me.  I think everyone needs a list of things to accomplish before
we transition to the next level whether its retirement, going to another job, or graduation. 
Me as Paul Stanley!
School Counselor Bucket List Challenge for Seniors

Some students will think this is dumb!
 So, why wait until you get "old" to have a bucket list!  I really love the idea of having a bucket list for high school students and challenging them to step outside of their comfort zone before they graduate. As a school counselor, think about incorporating a positive way to challenge your seniors to step
outside of their comfort zone. One way to do this is to publicize a Counselor's Bucket Challenge List to your seniors.  Create the list and hand it out to your students.  While some may roll their eyes, others may embrace the challenge.  If you have students to take the challenge, make sure you recognize their efforts whether it is during graduation practice or at a senior class meeting.  It means a lot to your students!!

Now, without further School Counselor Bucket List Challenge:

1.  Write a note to yourself on your graduation day.
2.  Clean up your social media to prepare for colleges/employers to view your pages.
3.  Create a memory box of all your high school memorabilia.
4.  Buy a yearbook and get everyone in your senior class to sign it.
5.  Learn 100 words every high school student should know before graduation.
6.  Start using Google Scholar rather than Google as a reference.
7.  Join a club.
8.  Attend a high school sporting event and show your school spirit.
9.  Say thank you to a teacher or staff member who has inspired you.
10. Bury the hatchet with an old high school feud before you graduate.
11. Apply to at least one scholarship.
12. Exchange emails with people you want to keep in touch with in the future.
13. Visit the career center and research a college.
14. Plan a college visit and spend the night.
15. Stop by and have a conversation with the principal.
16. Tutor an underclassmen.
17. Leave a senior class gift.
18. Take an AP class.
19. Visit a college class.
20. Give a do-over speech to a freshman class.
21. Sign up to be a peer mentor.
22. Perform at least 30 hours of community service.
23. Take a picture with the school mascot or at a school landmark.
24. Sit with someone at lunch you don't know and start up a conversation.
25. Start a new club.
26. Attend a high school theater production.
27. Register to vote.
28. Take a photo of yourself every month for senior year.
29. Dress up for spirit days.
30. Take a picture with your friends wearing our future college's t-shirts.
31. Eat lunch in the cafeteria.
32. Take a career interest inventory and talk to your counselor about your results.
33. Meet with your counselor once a month to talk about your post secondary plans.
34. Thank the cafeteria workers and custodians for their hard work.
35. Create your high school brag sheet or resume early.
36. Ask your favorite teachers/staff write a recommendation letter for you early in the year.
37. Take a college entrance exam the fall.
38. Befriend the quiet kid in one of your classes.
39. Buy someone's meal at your favorite fast food restaurant.
40. Give your friends a challenge to donate to a local charity.
41. Plan a senior scavenger hunt. Come up with some fun ideas for you and your friends to gather items from the school.
42. Open a bank account.
43. Take an online class.
44. Do you own laundry.
45. Fill out the FAFSA.
46. Sign up for Circle of 6 app for your phone.
47. Learn how to sew a button.
48. Wake yourself up using an alarm clock or your phone.
49. Take a first aid course.
50. Keep up with all your senior fees and activities for your parents/guardians.

Okay, this is my list so feel free to add or modify this list.  Please share your ideas with me!!


FASTWEB: Seize the Moment Bucket List
How to Create and Cross Off Your High School Bucket List

Sunday, April 19, 2015

May Awareness Activities for School Counselors

Sunday, April 19, 2015

National Anxiety and Depression Awareness Week - May 4-10 

Anxiety is the most common mental health issue among teens, but it is under diagnosed.  Left untreated, it can severely diminish productivity and a person's lifestyle.  Educating students and parents about anxiety is a great way to get students and parents thinking about the difference between normal and overwhelming anxiety.  Also, I have included resources for school counselors as we need to be able to identify when students are exhibiting fears that are impacting his or her ability to function in school. 


What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder? 

Anxiety and Depression Association of America 

Anxiety Fact sheet for Adolescents and Teens 

Mental Health America 

Worry Wise Kids Accommodations for Anxious Students 

Students and Anxiety: The Role of the School Counselor 

Resources and Training for School Counselors 

Top Anxiety Blogs 

Global Youth Traffic Safety Month

The goal of this month long campaign, sponsored by NOYS,  is to raise awareness about youth safety issues during spring & summer events like prom, graduation, and summer driving.  According to researchers, May through July are the deadliest months for traffic accidents by teens.  

NOYS Twitter Chat 
May 6 @ 8PM ET – Drunk, Drugged and Drowsy Driving
May 13 @ 8PM ET – Seat Belts
May 20 @ 8PM ET – Driving Distractions
May 27 @ 8PM ET – Sharing the Road

Teen Driving Summit - October 16-20, 2015

NOYS Action Guide 

Mental Health Month

For 65 years, Mental Health America has observed mental health awareness month by providing resources and activities.  This year's slogan is B4Stage4.

Outreach Ideas 
Get Informed Fact Sheet
Get Screened Fact Sheet
Get Help Fact Sheet
Calendar of Event

Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month

Many teens still think that teen pregnancy cannot happen to them so the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month helps them think before they get in the moment.

Office of Adolescent Health 
Stay Teen 

Get Involved - if you only have 5 minutes you can get involved in preventing teen pregnancy.

Adolescent Development 


Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Little Dab Won't Do: What School Counselors Need to Know About Marijuana Concentrates

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Normalization of Cannabis Use Among Teens

Next Monday is an international holiday for marijuana enthusiasts everywhere known as 420. If you don't know much about this celebration, please read my blog about the history of 420.  Also, many states like Colorado  have produced a media campaign of photos showing the normalization of cannabis use among adults in advance of 420. Below are pictures showing adults from the ages of 30-60 in social situations using cannabis. Making adults feel comfortable about cannabis use can have a big impact on their positive views about teen use. 
Marijuana and a Movie

Blunts and BBQ
How Each Generation Views Legalization
Since it is becoming more accepted in our culture and schools that teens are using marijuana daily, there is a big movement to change drug prevention education. Although four states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use, the Federal Government still considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug and opposes national legalization due to its high potential for addiction and lack of medical benefits. Teens often have misinformation regarding the differences between recreational and medicinal legalization and which states currently allow recreational use.  Pointing students to the National Conference of State Legislatures to find out about the laws of each state regarding marijuana use can help them stay out of legal trouble.  

Teen Marijuana Use

Although teen marijuana use has remained stable (which is positive in a way),  more teens are using marijuana and looking for more potent forms.

Marijuana Use is Highest Among Seniors in High School

Among Illicit Drugs, Marijuana is #1
 Now, let's have a short lesson in marijuana potency.  Marijuana potency has increased substantially since the 1970's (this is even admitted by Cheech Marin one of the biggest advocates for recreational marijuana). Researchers have found that the average THC levels in marijuana have increased substantially from 3% in the 70s and 80s to 12% in 2012 (some are reported as high as 28%!).  Originally, these more concentrated strains of marijuana were produced in labs for medicinal purposes; however, growers now strive to create the highest strains possible in order to win awards at the Cannabis Cup Competition. The potential harm of this competition is that marijuana is becoming everything its proponents said it was not-harmful! The effects of marijuana have been well documented and with higher potency levels the effects will only intensify.

Although not immediate, there are negative impacts to marijuana use
Resource:  Truth About Marijuana

So what is the big deal if students come to school high?  Well, there are several concerns about the impact of marijuana on students. Cannabis effects teens' ability to concentrate which can impact school completion;  there is a greater risk of dependence if use begins in adolescence; a higher risk of criminal behavior;  risk for injury when driving or using machinery;  and lower life satisfaction in their relationships.  

Marijuana impacts every part of the brain as it attaches to cannabinoid receptors impacting coordination & learning
As counselors, one of our goals is to help prepare students for their future. Part of that preparation includes education about the potential hazards of drug use on teens and their future. As marijuana becomes more potent, school counselors need to provide students and parents with the right information before they are influenced by the new" pot entrepreneurs".  Here are some of the celebrities cashing in on the new cash crop.

Source:  Willie Nelson is Set to Launch His Own Marijuana Brand

Is the Marijuana Industry Becoming the Next Tobacco Industry?
 Teen Cannabis Use

There are many reasons teens start using cannabis.  However, societal attitudes around marijuana use can influence students to start using in middle school.  Researchers found that the earlier cannabis is used by adolescents the more addicted they become to the drug. In addition, those who start early often desire a stronger strain of marijuana. 
Source: Risk Factors for Marijuana Use

In Colorado, Austin Gilliam, general manager of Kine Mine dispensary, found that higher strains of marijuana are flying off the shelves and seems to be very popular with teens. Those who are against legalization worry that the popularity of marijuana concentrates pose many dangers to teens.  Some of these dangers include: addiction, mental illness, and "motivational syndrome" or the condition in which the person loses interested in doing much of anything including school or work.

 One way to make this higher strain is to produce marijuana in a concentrated form called dabs or ear wax (some reports say one dab is equivalent to smoking three joints) which is made using solvents like butane or lighter fluid. Making dabs outside of the lab is very dangerous for teens because butane is a explosion risk because it is so highly flammable. Unfortunately, many people have been severely burned making cannabis extracts. Also, dabs can be extremely dangerous because it contains contaminants.

Dabbing wax can easily be mistaken for lip balm
As wax becomes more popular with teens, they are finding creative ways to smuggle it into schools. Since dabs looks like lip balm, teens can bring it in lip balm containers; since it is odorless smoke they are smoking it in electric devices; and it is pliable so it can easily added to edibles.  A columnist for the New York Times was visiting Colorado to interview personnel at a local edibles plant when she decided to munch on a candy bar edible. Unfortunately, the journalist was unaware that the candy bar was supposed to be cut into 16 pieces for a novice and she lay in a state of psychosis and panic for eight hours unable to move. The first authenticated death from marijuana came from a guy who got so high from hashish that he passed out and hit his head instantly killing him.  If this happens to an adult, imagine growing concern that cannabis edibles and wax will fall into the hands of adolescents and children. 

Marijuana Packaging Attacks Kids
The School Counselor and the Cannabis Using Student

Let's look at the power of school counseling among drug using teens. As legalization spreads, it will become more important for school counselors to receive training on the effects of marijuana and student behavior.  In a study conducted on 3,200 7th and 9th graders in Australia and Washington State, researchers found that students who were suspended for drug use were two times more likely to use marijuana in the next year than students who were not suspended. What most surprised the researchers was that students who were counseled by the school counselor were 50% less likely to use in the next year. Other policies like calling the police, involving the school nurse, or expelling students had no effect on marijuana use. The researchers found schools that had drug policies with education or counseling were more effective than schools who only penalized their students.  
Source: Counseling Beats Suspension for Curbing Kids: Pot Use Study Says

Techniques for School Counselors

So, what technique does a school counselor use to convince a student that cannabis may not be the best choice in an age of legalization and social acceptance?   Motivational Interviewing examines the student's current situation and explores the perceived benefits and obstacles around their substance abuse with the intention of helping him or her recognize if their current use is helping or hindering future goals. Motivational Interviewing (MI) is based on the premise that every behavior has a purpose and that there is a reason people abuse substances. In addition, MI recognizes that change is circular and not linear and relapse is part of that circular pattern. In order to be successful in working with students who have substance abuse issues, here are some best practices to remember:

1.  Adolescents are often ambivalent about giving up their use of cannabis and don't listen to adults.  Teens are much more likely to listen to peers about the harms of substance abuse. Employing a peer education program like What's With Weed can help make a difference in their views.

2.  Acknowledge your understanding of the student's ambivalence and discuss other options for cannabis use when possible.  (Example includes: helps me sleep, but causes anxiety.)

3.  Focus on motivations to change. Find out if they are meeting their future goals with their cannabis use.

4.  Avoid judgments!

5.  Focus on harm reduction. Students may not be willing to give up with cannabis use, but brainstorm with them how to keep safe. 
Source:  Harm Reduction Cannabis Use: Motivational Interviewing

Other Resources:

Drug Facts-Marijuana

Marijuana Concentrates Brochure - Brochure for parents and staff.

Monday, April 13, 2015

College Decision Day Ideas

Monday, April 13, 2015

Each year, the NCAA holds a special event to celebrate high school athletes' intent to play football in college. This occasion is known as  "National Signing Day". The purpose of this ceremony is to celebrate the student athlete and all of his hard work and effort to get to this special day. Since this event is so inspiring for the students and their families, a similar event is taking place across the country to celebrate college acceptance and encourage younger students to prepare for college. This occasion is called "College Decision  Day". As part of the Reach Higher Initiative by the White House, many states are now sponsoring "College Decision Day" on May 1st.  

The benefits of holding this event include:
  • Recognizing all students in front of their peers.
  • Showcasing students in the media for positive PR for the school.
  • Supporting a college going culture.
  • Having FUN!!
Want to know more about this initiative?  Watch this video by Ms. Obama and download the kit from Reach Higher.

Reach Higher Signing Day Kit 

If your school is not participating this year, no worries!  Here are some ideas of how you can celebrate next year's college applicants.   

College Decision Day Events 
Currently, there are several outstanding College Decision Day programs that I would like to share with high school counselors.  

First, the City of San Antonio, Texas has a huge yearly event where over 4,000 students come together in their convention center to celebrate their college acceptance.  During this ceremony, students sit in a marked section with the name of their institution, they are congratulated by the mayor,  and addressed by a famous guest speaker. 

Next, the states of Michigan and Florida both have a statewide College Decision Day.  In Michigan, schools are invited to choose how they want to celebrate the event.  School can hold an assembly, invite an outside speaker to inspire seniors, hold a picnic, sponsor a carnival, support a breakfast, give prizes, ask staff to participate by decorating their doors, decorate the school with balloons, or ask students to wear college gear. 

Check out this video from Michigan, download their kit, and check out the student PSA.

Michigan College Decision Day 
Training Webinar 

This year, Florida instituted its College Decision Day.  You can view their kit which borrows ideas from Texas and Michigan.

Florida College Decision Day 

My School

Our college adviser has made plans for us to participate in College Decision Day on May 7th (we started planning a little late).  Before this event, seniors will bring in their acceptance letters so we can prepare their certificates and college bound t-shirts. 

College Bound Shirts for Students Who Bring in College Acceptance Letters

 On the day of the event, students will sign our gigantic wall sign showing off their college choice and teachers will post their colleges on their doors (I borrowed a generic form borrowed from the Florida Decision Day kit).
Generic Sign for Teachers' Doors

 In addition, we will ask seniors to wear their college gear and invite them to our college/career center for cake (yum).  Since this is our first year, we are going to keep the ceremony small; however, next year, we are going to blow it up by advertising this event early (see the Creating College Going Culture kit below).
Creating a College Going Culture 

If your school is participating on May 1st, I would love to hear your ideas!!

Friday, April 10, 2015

The New Prom Culture

Friday, April 10, 2015

It is early in the morning and swarm of angry girls rush into the counseling office.  Apparently something traumatic happened to one of the girls and she is inconsolable. For the next three hours she sits in my office trying to work through the tragic situation that she experienced over the weekend.  In short, welcome to  Monday after prom!  Of course, you can tell this is one of my favorite days of the year (yes, I am being sarcastic). Every year, there always seems to be some sort of drama the week after prom from either a break up, a social media melt down, or a trip to jail.  I find that most of the issues from prom do not occur at the dance, but happen at the events following the formal.  So, the prom is not just not one affair, but it has become an elaborate series of occasions that begin way in advance of the dance.  Okay, let me break down the new prom culture for you...

Planning for the prom can start months in advance for both sexes.  For girls, their goal is to find the perfect dress which can cost in the thousands (compared to the tux which is around $100). For guys, they are under pressure to come up with the perfect promposal. Now if you haven't experienced a promposal, they can be quite elaborate productions.  There have been tales of guys hiring sky writers, musicians, and messengers to
deliver the prom invitation while they stand anxiously in the background waiting for an answer.  I witnessed my first promposal last year when I was selling candy rings for Valentine's Day.  A guy bought a ring and went over a table of girls where he got on one knee and asked one of the girls to the dance. The whole lunchroom exploded in applause while cellphones captured the moment on Vine.

Following the dress selection and promposal event, there is the preparation for prom.  Preparations for the big event can include the ride to the prom (party bus or limo), dinner reservations, finding the right group to hang out with during and after the prom, and deciding which after prom event(s) to attend.  According to Business Insider Magazine, the average family is now spending $1,139 on prom activities! 

Next, there are the day of prom preparations which can be especially busy for girls. A new trend for girls is to reserve a day at the spa for all their beauty treatments (nails, hair, tanning, and even massage). It is not only important for girls to look good  for the dance, but there is a lot of pressure to be camera ready for social media.  In fact, social media outlines the whole itinerary for prom events which are routinely discussed days after the prom.

Prom Selfie
When the dance is over, prom is just cranking up with the after prom activities.  Unfortunately, this is where the majority of the at risk behaviors happen that we hear about on Monday morning.  Regarding after prom parties, the ones that are most concerning for me are the ones where alcohol is freely available.  Surprisingly, there are parties held at hotels paid for by parents and parties sponsored by parents where alcohol is served.  These particular parties, where parents condone and supply alcohol, are known as social hosting parties.  According to Psychology Today, a social host is someone who furnishes alcohol without monetary gain, has no special relationship to the party guests, condones the consumption of alcohol on their property, and may be an adult or minor host. Many states have specific laws regarding social hosting and the liability that goes along with that responsibility.

As you can see,  prom culture has become a huge event that can cause a lot of social stress in schools.  So, where did this idea or phenomenon emerge?  Time Magazine identifies the history of the present day prom or promenade as having roots in the simple 19th century co-ed university graduation banquet. As the teenage culture emerged, these co-ed events were pushed back into the senior year of high school and were celebrated at dances.  After WWII, these teenage dances were taken out of the school gymnasiums and held at more sophisticated locations like country clubs and hotels. Eventually, the prom was seen as a rite of passage into underage drinking, staying out after curfew, and first time sexual encounters. Best selling author, Rachel Simmons, wrote a great article about the damaging messages that prom sends to teens.  

1.  You must have money to go to prom.  This is so true as many of our low income students feel that going to prom is unattainable due to the expense. 
2.  You must be beautiful to go to the prom.  Again, prom is all about fashion and preparation.  In my hometown, it is customary for the parents to gather together to watch the couples "promenade" to the dance.
Prom preparation is important!
All the pictures are posted on Face Book and people comment on the dresses, hairstyles, and chemistry of the couples.  The couples that get the most accolades are the ones who look like they have walked off the red carpet.
3.  Girls should wait to be asked to go to the prom. So, the promposal is the ultimate invitation and tends to be for the "popular" kids. Girls who do not have a invitation often scramble to find a last minute date.
4. All prom events should be broadcasted.  Prom has become a social event.  Not only is it an event for the teens, but it is a matter of pride and conversation for parents.  With American families shelling out big bucks, prom events are becoming like weddings!
5. Who you bring to the prom matters!  Going back to the event in my bring the wrong type of person and you are toast on social media.  This can mean wrong social status, wrong gender, wrong get my drift. Prom has become an event that encourages social stratification.

Okay, we now are aware of the pitfalls of prom: extreme pressure for perfection,  poor decision making, and social segregation of certain groups.  So, as school counselors, what can we do to help our students survive this coming of age event?

Here are some tips of how we can infiltrate the prom culture:

1.  Find sponsors for a prom closet asking alumni to donate their gently used dresses.  Also, ask for donations for students to get a free makeover, manicure, or tanning.  Check out Operation Prom as a resource.
2.  Provide resources for students and parents. For students, putting together a resource kit of prom essentials is a great idea for providing resources.  Of course this will take planning, but it is a neat idea.  

Kit can include:
  • Gum/breath mints
  • mini deodorant 
  • Chap stick for guys
  • Kleenex
  • Band aids for blisters
  • Double sided tape 
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Safety pins
  • List of much need apps 
      1.  Plan'It Prom-helps students and parents plan for prom and stay on budget.
Circle of Six
      2.  Circle of Six-allows the student to send a message to six friends in case of an emergency.
      3.  Open Table-easily allows students to book a table during busy nights.
      4.  Pro Flowers-app that makes it easy to order that special corsage
  • Make a list of important phone numbers & important locations (police, cab companies, locations of nearest ATM machines).  You can create an app for students to download on Yapp with all local resources and emergency numbers.
Parent Guide to a Safe Prom
What Every Parent Should Know About the Prom  

 3.  Consider taking a group of students to dinner and to the prom.  When I was a younger teacher, my teacher buddies and I would always take students to the prom.  In the past, I have taken a group of socially isolated girls who did not have dates and went with a group of special education students. Needless to say those were memorable times!
After Prom Party Idea

4.  Host a Safe After Party. Since prom is strictly supervised, many kids leave to go after school parties to "cut loose".  SADD has a helpful guide to putting together and safe after prom activities.

SADD Think About It
SADD After Party Ideas

So, when you have a student come into your office loosing it over something that happened from prom, please be a little patient with him or her. Prom is more than a is a high pressure rite of passage.
Desperate times call for desperate hashtags!

Additional Resources:

 How Kids Do It Now

Prom Playbook: How Schools Can Keep Teens Safe

Teen Life: After Prom Ideas

Power to the Parents: Prom Informational Brochure

Empower Your Teen With Refusal Skills

Dangers of Drinking on Prom Night

Risky Behavior Leads to Emergency Rooms

Drugs and Alcohol Defined

Stratification on the Dance Floor Prom Night in America

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The School Counselor: Sexual Assault Advocate

Thursday, April 9, 2015
Imagine going across the state line to attend a party hosted by an assistant football coach for the popular Big Red football team. When you arrive, you are constantly supplied with alcohol until you are totally wasted.  In your haze, you decide to leave that party with a group of football players to go to a second party.  On the
Steubenville, Ohio Big Red Football Team
way, you get sick, pass out, and are digitally assaulted by one of the players.  When you arrive at the second party, you are undressed, forced to have oral sex, and you are digitally molested by another player.  While you are assaulted, other participants take photos and post them on Facebook and Instagram. The next morning you wake up undressed in a strange basement with one of the football players.  As you finally make it home, you hear about what happened and you immediately text one of the players confronting him about the alleged assault.  Following the days after the assault, you are harassed online and at school, the football players are protected by school officials and coaches as they begin an elaborate coverup, and the police refuse to investigate your allegations.  As word gets out about the assault, a group of social media bloggers take the allegations viral demanding justice.  When the assailants are finally brought to justice, the news media exposes your name and sympathizes with the assailants.

The Assault Lifetime Movie
Is this a Lifetime movie? No, unfortunately this is a true story based on the Steubenville sexual assault case. However, there was a Lifetime movie called the Assault based on this case and the word is that Brad Pitt and his production company are planning to make a movie based on the social blogger who brought the case out in the open . The purpose of this blog is not to discuss this case (I discussed this in an earlier blog), but to address the negligence of the school staff who failed to report the assault and the lack of education of the students.

 In this case, six adults were charged with failing to report the assault and this case may be the one that highlights the responsibilities of school officials to report sexual assault. The Attorney General of Ohio discovered, through the testimonies of the students in the Steubenville case, that the students were ignorant of the definition of rape, unaware of how or who to report the rape, and many refused to cooperate with authorities. Experts believe there is a need for education for both staff and students around sexual assault and violence.

What is sexual assault?

In my macrocosm, I have some experience working with students who have been victims of sexual assault or violence.  Working as a school counselor, I have discovered that sexual violence is not just harassment or rape, but can occur in many different ways. RAINN and NSVRC have identified the many faces of sexual violence:

Acquittance rape
Child sexual abuse
Dating violence
Drug facilitated sexual violence
Military sexual trauma
Hate crime
Unwanted touching/contact
Male sexual violence
Partner rape
Sexual exploitation by a helping professional
Sexual harassment
Stranger rape
Masturbating in public
Human Trafficking

Statistically, 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18 with the highest risk years between the ages of 12-34. In addition to females, 5% of males in grades 9-12 have been the victims of sexual violence. Another eye opening fact about sexual assault is that the majority of victims know their attacker or their attacker is a family member. In addition, sexual assaults often occur one mile from the victim's home or in the  home.  Although high numbers of sexual assaults occur among secondary aged students, secondary schools often lack sufficient systems of reporting or dealing with sexual abuse. According the the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, sexual assaults, including rape, is the most under reported crime
Source: RAINN

Sexual assault has devastating effects on its victims. RAINN has found that victims are...

3 times more likely to suffer from depression.
4 times more likely to commit suicide.
6 times more likely to have PTSD.
13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
26 times more likely to use substances.
According to a US News and World Report article, the secondary education system does not have a common prevention education program about sexual assault, a standard protocol for reporting assaults, or protocols of who should make the call to report the assault.  In fact, protocols vary from state to state, system to system, and school to school.  Because of this insufficient system, 80% of high school counselors feel ill-equipped to to deal with sexual abuse reporting.  However, under Title IX public schools have the responsibility to protect the rights of girls from discrimination which include all forms of sexual and gender based violence. This includes protecting students from unwelcome conduct that is considered undesirable or offensive.  In addition, the Department of Education states that just because a student accepts the conduct or willingly participated in the behavior doesn't mean that it was welcomed. 

 Under Title IX schools must:

1. protect the educational rights and well-being of students:
  •  in class, in the school building, on field trips, extracurricular activities, and on school buses.
  •  before, during, and after an investigation of gender based violence.
2. investigate a student complaint immediately, even if the police are conducting their investigation and...
  • keep the student safe from verbal or physical harassment from other staff or students.
  • create a safety plan.
  •  enforce any restraining orders.
3. notify the student when an investigated is being conducted and what happened with the investigation.

4.  inform the student how the investigation was carried out (if the other student was transferred, expelled, or ordered to stay away from the victim).

Under Title IX, the school must not:

1.  force the students to work it out.

2.  force the student to change schools, buses, or classes.

3. make the student leave the team or extracurricular activity.

4. change the educational environmental where the student would not receive an equal education.

5. delay or pressure the student to wait to file a complaint.

Source: ACLU Gender Based Fact Sheet for Schools

Reporting Sexual Assault

Taking a report of sexual harassment or assault is important. Often times, as school counselors, we are the first to see the students and we tend to be clueless about sexual assault reporting.  Whether
you are in the role of taking a report or making sure the student gets to the right person, it is important to know the right protocol.

A suggested protocol includes:

1.  Listen to the student respectfully.
2.  Avoiding judging or blaming the student.
3.  Answer questions fully and acknowledge when you do not know the information to a question.
4.  Advise the student to document the incident in writing in as much details as possible.
5.  Advise students about their rights according to Title IX.
6.  Assist students if they wish to report their incident.
7.  Check up on the student and remind them to report any additional harassment.
Source: Crossing the Line

The Role of the School Counselor in Sexual Assault Advocacy

According to ASCA Ethical Guidelines, school counselors have the responsibility to know the laws, regulations, and policies related to students and strive to protect and inform them of their rights (ASCA Ethical Standard, A.1.d). According to Lester and Durham, school counselors have the ability to ensure that schools follow the legal and ethical mandates when reporting sexual assault and violence. As an advocate, school counselors must be willing to move beyond the "nice counselor syndrome" and even challenge administrations' illegal reporting policies. 

Under the ASCA Competencies, school counselors can advocate for victimized students in the area of responsive, school-wide, and system services. In responsive services, school counselors can help students identify their protective factors to promote resilience, self esteem, self efficacy, and hope for the future. In school-wide support advocacy, the school counselor advocates for collaborative relationships with professionals inside and outside of the school that support a comprehensive and coordinated response system. Finally, the school counselor can identify obstacles that prevent their colleagues from making adequate reports by advocating for better protocols and response systems. Finally, bringing awareness to sexual violence in the school and community may bring about the much needed change needed in secondary schools.

Sexual Assault Awareness

The purpose of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is to bring attention to rape culture, its negative effects on youth, and how to to develop healthy sexuality.  Rape culture consists of social inequality, normalization of violence, myths about sexual assault, victim blaming, and unwillingness to talk about rape culture. To develop healthy sexuality in teens, teens should be able to:
  • understand consent and how to respectfully interact with others;
  • be able to help influence peers in a positive manner and engage in bystander intervention;
  • recognize sexual violence and how to seek help;
  • provide support and information to peers who have experienced sexual violence.
One of the goals of Sexual Assault Awareness is to educate students about how to reduce their risk of sexual assault:

1. Avoid dangerous situations
  • Be aware of your surroundings and how to escape if you must.
  • Try to avoid isolated areas.
  • Try not to load yourself with packages or boxes.
  • Keep your cell phone on you and charged.
  • Don't allow yourself to be isolated with someone you do not know or don't trust.
  • Avoid wearing headphones so you can be aware of your surroundings.
  • Never leave your drink unattended.  It is all too common for attackers to slip a date rape drug into an unattended drink. The three common date rape drugs are Rohypnol, GHB, and Ketamin
 Source:  Sexual Harassment

2.  Know how to safely assist your friends
  • Create a distraction to get your friend out of the situation (i.e. "Do you want to go to the bathroom with me?").
  • If you feel comfortable step in and separate your fiend from the other person.
  • Enlist the help of others.
  • Keep an eye out for your friend especially if your friend is drinking.  
 Awareness Events

If you are looking for some simple awareness events to put together, here are some ideas from the Sexual Assault Awareness Website:
  • Hand out teal ribbons to students and staff to promote the idea of sexual assault awareness.
  • Set up an awareness table at lunch.
  • Launch a restroom campaign to educate students about consent and the definition of sexual assault.
  • Host a poster contest for students to educate other students about sexual violence.
  • Organize a white ribbon campaign to get male students to sign a pledge to stand up against sexual violence.
  • Participate in denim day on April 29th to promote sexual assault awareness.
  • Coordinate a clothesline project and hang student created t-shirts about sexual violence.  See the clothesline project brochure for more information.

Other Resources

For School Counselors

The School Counselors Response to Sexual Bullying

Sexual Assault Advocate/Counselor Training

State Sexual Assault Coalitions

Prevent Connect Wiki - Tons of resources on sexual assault.

For Students

What is Consent?

Drug Facilitated Sexual Assault

Developing Boundaries

Teaching Peers to Respond to Sexual Assault  - online teaching scenarios to use with students.

Teach Bystander Intervention

Engaging Bystanders in Sexual Violence Prevention

Bystander Playbook

Youth Leader Toolkit

Youth Over Violence

Men of Strength Club

Speak, Act, Change Youth Advocacy Kit

See It, Stop It

Peer Educators

UnSlut Project

Please feel free to share your ideas in educating staff and students regarding sexual violence.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Only 5 Seconds: Teen Distracted Driving Awareness

Sunday, April 5, 2015

I have been trying to write this blog post for a whole week, but I keep getting distracted.  Whether it is work, my kids, American Idol, or being plain tired, I just could not get it written.  Some of my distractions were pretty important and needed my immediate attention (i.e. my job and my kids); other distractions were not emergencies, but were important to me (i.e. exercise); and some were not so good for me at all (i.e. my craving for Cheezits!).

Life is full of distractions that may take our attention from the task at hand.  Some are quite harmless and some can be fatal. Almost daily, we drive, walk, or wait in a line while using our cell phones.  Honestly, I enjoy talking to someone on my phone because it helps pass away the time on a boring trip. However, there are definitely times that cell phone use should be restricted. For instance, there have been numerous reports of plane and train accidents from the use of cell phones in recent years.  One of the largest was the 2013 train derailment in Spain where over 70 people were killed from the conductor's use of a cell phone. Although he was using his phone for business, it is clear that he could not drive the train and use his phone at the same time.  This is the dangerous task known as multitasking.

When you study neuroscience, you will see that our brains are not capable of multitasking.  I know, I know...we have been taught that we can all multitask.  In a report by the National Safety Council (2012), researchers found that our multitasking is really just our brain switching quickly from one task to another task. Conducting this "switch" of activities, the brain must select, process, encode, store, retrieve, and then act on the information.  If the brain becomes overloaded (talking on the phone, putting on makeup, or tuning the radio), it may skip a critical step which may lead to "inattention blindness" or the loss of important information. One task becomes primary or gets full attention and the other becomes secondary or gets put on the so called "back burner".  Often, we believe we have taken in all the information, but in reality, we have only taken in a portion.

Below is a great video on distractions called "Monkey Business".  Watch the video to see which items you may have missed due to distractions.

Now that you have watched the video, let's talk about distractions.  In fact, there are three types of distractions that occur while driving a car:

1.  Visual - Anything that takes ones eyes off the road.
2.  Manual - Anything that causes one or both hands to leave the wheel.
3.  Cognitive - Anything that causes the mind to wander and not focus on driving.

 Source: Overcoming Distracted Driving

Because of our brain's inability to multitask, distracted driving has become the number one killer of teens. In fact, 90% of teens admit that they perform numerous tasks while driving like changing clothes, shaving, eating, or falling asleep (Negligent Driving). In fact, studies have found that the minimal amount of time one's eyes are off the road is five seconds when he or she is distracted.  If one is traveling 55 mph, that is the length of a football field (Texting and Driving). Check out the site, R U Legal, for great resources on distracted driving.  Here are a few of the great videos you can use with your students during the month of April.

R U Legal Videos

In addition, free lesson plans can be downloaded from this website along with resources and the distracted driving pledge.
R U Legal Lesson Plans
Wheel of Death - Find out how the percentages change when increasing the number of passengers.

Free poster from RU Legal

Distracted Driving Campaign

During the week of April 6-15, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launches its Distracted Driving Campaign.  During the campaign, the NHTSA wants to educate the public on the dangers of distracted driving and the financial penalties for breaking state law. The goal of the campaign is to urge drivers to:
  • Turn off electronic devices or put them out of reach while driving.
  • Be good role models to teens.
  • Speak up if the driver is participating in distracting behaviors.
  • Wear their  seat belt. 

In addition, the campaign teaches adults when teens should and should not drive.
Teens should never drive when they are:
  • tired and sleepy
  • feeling emotional
  • taking medication
  • under the influence


Additional Resources:

Parent Resources
Download the parent-teen agreement and weekly driving lessons and tips.

 Hand Free Phones 
Audio clip on a Harvard study about the dangers of hand-free phones.

Dangers of Cell Phones and Driving
Audio clip on the dangers of cell phones and driving.

Teen Driver Risk and Age of the Passenger

Safe Driving Teen Survey

Other Campaigns:

All State #GetThereSafe 
All State Insurance asks students not to speed, to wear their seat belt, and not to participate in distracting behaviors.

Parents are the Key
The CDC urges parents to learn the eight danger zones of teen driving, create an agreement with their teens, and be a model for their kids.

Resources for Educators

Our Brains on Technology Webinar