Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Teen Drug Trends in 2016

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Well, it is the last day of the year and this will be my last post of 2015.  It's New Year's Eve and that means a lot of us will be going to parties, gathering with friends and family, or just staying home and watching Dick Clark's Rocking New Year's Eve hosted by Ryan Seacrest (I fall into this last category).  As I was imagining the New Year's Eve ball drop in New York, my mind switched to the party culture that is associated around this holiday. Time
My New Year's Eve Party
reported that this massive New Year's Eve party has been a tradition since 1904 and the first ball drop occurred in 1907.  Personally, I have never visited New York City on December 31st;  however, each year over one million people line Time Square to welcome in the New Year.  In this crowd, you will see young and old coming together to participate in one massive party with lots of excitement; however, after midnight they magically disappear.  It seems like one big great time, but there is a seedier side to this good time.  Researchers found that 30 days before the New Year, drug use increases.  In fact,  National Geographic Magazine ran a story about drug dealing gangs and how they stock up on their products to capitalize on the New Year's Eve drug demand.  In fact before heading out into the square, many consumers are approached by suppliers to buy their drug of choice or experience the newest drug trend.

Before New Year's Eve, drug use increases
Each year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reports on the latest drug trends around the world.  These new trends show there are no limits to the imagination and tactics of the drug chemists and dealers to find new customers. Unfortunately, the targets of many of the dealers are our teens who are easy pray because they are looking for an easy, cheap high.  Not only are teens looking for a quick high, but they are looking to fit in, experiment, rebel from rules, and relax in their surroundings. Again, they are easy targets to these new trends!!

Latest Drug Trends

Each year, I am amazed with the new drugs that our teens are taking!  So, I did some research and I wanted to share some of the alarming drug trends in the US, Canada, and Europe among teens. This list will contain some of the most alarming teen drug trends in the last five years.

Fentanyl (Street names: Apache, China Girl, Dance Fever, TNT)

Fentanyl is an opioid that is estimated to be 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin and often used to help patients with pain management.  Users often mix Fentanyl with other drugs to amplify their potency.  Law enforcement and medical professionals in the United States and Canada are very concerned about the rise in use of Fentanyl among teens.  The newest trend is that party drugs, like marijuana and oxycodone, are often laced with the substance which can cause teens to overdose.

Fentanyl Drug Abuse

Synthetic Cannabinoids or Marijuana (K-2, Spice, Black Mamba)

Designed to be a safe and legal alternative to marijuana, synthetic weed is a psychoactive substance intended to mimic the effects of marijuana. With the belief that it is natural and "harmless", teens are easily seduced in purchasing the substance to smoke in e-cigarettes or hookahs.  Some of the problems with synthetic weed include its highly addictive properties and psychotic features including hallucinogens,  extreme paranoia, and altered perception.

DEA Drug Facts on Synthetic Marijuana

Flakka or alpha-PVP

Flakka is an extremely addictive synthetic cathinone that is similar to cathinone drugs popular in bath salts. Although bath salts are extremely dangerous, Flakka is bath salts to the extreme. In fact, the word Flakka in Spanish means beautiful elegant woman who fools all!  Produced in China, Flakka emerged in South Florida as a legal substitute for heroin. Because of its highly addictive nature, dealers are lacing marijuana with Flakka increasing their customer base (it doesn't help that it is only $3 to $5!).  The effects of Flakka are so severe that the only way to bring down a user is to sedate the person until he or she comes back to reality which can take up to 30 days!  Even when a person comes back to reality, he or she will possibly portray unpredictable behavior.

The Devil's Drug
Everything You Need to Know About the Street Drug Flakka

Superman pills or PMMA

Created in the Netherlands as a substitute for Ecstasy, Superman pills are a legal, adulterated form of MDMA that has become popular in Great Britain. Like Ecstasy, club kids are drawn to the drug for feelings of euphoria and high levels of energy. Because the drug works slower than MDMA, many drug users make the decision to take more which may lead to an overdose. Doctors warn that friends of users should keep a close eye on them and don't hesitate to call an ambulance.

The Evolution of Ecstasy: From Mandy to Superman
Superman Pills

Caffeine Powder

Caffeine powder is legal and available for sale online for purchase.  Teens and young adults are particularly drawn to caffeine powder as a method of losing weight or staying awake for finals.  In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one teaspoon of caffeine powder is equivalent to 25 cups of coffee.  Physicians warn parents to be aware of the deadly potential of caffeine powder.

Caffeine Powder


Although marketed as a safe alternative to cigarettes, e-cigarettes are an electronic device that delivers nicotine in a flavored vapor rather than smoke.  Because e-cigarettes are relatively new, there have not been a lot of studies about the health results from their use. In current studies from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, researchers found that teens who started using e-cigarettes are more likely to start using tobacco.



Krokodil is a highly toxic synthetic opioid that emerged in Russia, but has recently appeared in the United States. Although it has a shorter duration, its effects are powerful!  The term krokodil is the result of the grayish, dead skin that forms about the injection site.  Physicians have reported amputating limbs to save the user's life because the drug literally eats the person from the inside out.

Warning!!!  This is a graphic video and I have posted it to show the severity of the use of Krokodil. Watch at your own have been warned.

 Krokodil Information

N-Bomb (Smiles, Legal Acid)

N-Bomb is three closely related synthetic hallucinogens that are often sold as a legal substitute for LSD.  The drug is sold as a liquid, powder, or on a soaked blotter paper and must be absorbed in order to take effect (snorted, injected, smoked, or inserted rectally). Due to its high potency, producers of the drug often wear masks, glasses, and gloves to protect themselves from an overdose.  Hospitals are seeing more and more cases of young people coming into emergency rooms with psychotic features and severe physical effects. 

N Bomb Effects and History

Purple Drank (Lean)

The purple drank contains a prescription cough syrup mixed with soda and hard candy that has been made popular by rap artists in the club scene. In fact, a slowed down form of rap called "chopped and screwed" was created for clubbers sipping on the drank.  Due to the ease of accessibility, over 12% of high school students in Texas and Florida have reported abusing the purple drank which is known for its feelings of euphoria and reduction of motor skills. Want to know more?  Check out my post on the purple drank and the school counselor.

Purple Drank Information

Energy Drinks

According to Live Science, the consumption of energy drinks has increased among high school, middle school and even elementary school students!  School nurses have seen increased trends of students with heart palpitations in their offices. In addition, researchers found that adolescents who consume energy drinks are at risk for depression and later substance abuse. The dangers of seizures, stroke, and death are very real for children because of their smaller body mass.

Pharm Parties (Skittle Parties)

Imagine going to a party and seeing a buffet table full of colorful pills spread out on a table.  Teens form lines on each side of the table, pick up a zip lock bag, and select pills they want to take.  New Year's Eve is notorious for the introduction of teen phram parties because pharmaceuticals are easy to get out of parent's and grandparent's medicine cabinets. The most popular drugs for teens include Oxycotin, Vicodin, Xanax, Valium, Adderall, and Concerta.

Phraming Pill Parties Can Be Deadly For Teens
Teen Prescription Drug Abuse

If you are a school counselor, you may see the devastating effects of drug use on teens and their families.  Although we are not addiction therapists, I think that school counselors can make an impact on teens and families by providing drug fact information and education.  In fact, you have this opportunity each January during Drug Fact Awareness Week.  If you want to know more about Drug Fact Awareness Week, check out my post from 2015. 

Additional Resources on Drug Use Among Teens

Band Back Together Drug Resources
Commonly Abused Drug Chart
Dropout Crisis and Substance Abuse
How Getting High Can Get You AIDS
Marijuana Use Detrimental to Youth
Monitoring Our Future: NIDA Chat on Drug Use and Teen Attitudes
Prevention Resources
Substance Abuse Facts
Teen Challenge
The 10 Hardest Drugs to Kick
Truth About Drugs
Vaping: The Evolution of Marijuana

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Start the New Year With a New Tech Tool!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

If you have been a consistent reader of my blog, you may remember that I took a new position this year as a Virtual Learning Support Specialist (VLSS) for our county's online school.  What does that mean?  Basically, it is several roles wrapped into one job title (school counselor, testing coordinator [yes, I know], teacher, trainer, 504 coordinator, technical support staff, advisor, and personnel support). Unfortunately our county could not justify hiring a virtual school counselor, so it created this position to meet a variety of student needs in the virtual world.  One of the roles that I am enjoying the most is my role as peer helper trainer and teacher.  Way back in the 90s, I was a social studies teacher and I loved teaching the kids.  So now that I am in a dual role of support staff and teacher, I get to really interact with students again!

Working With Students in the Virtual World

Currently, I am teaching an online peer helping course (yes, I designed my own online peer helper course!) and running peer mediation simulations with students in several schools. Because of my full time position as VLSS,  it is often difficult to find time to see the
Online peer mediation simulation via Zoom
students in person.  In fact, I was driving myself crazy trying to find a time that we could all see each other in a face to face setting with all our busy schedules.  Being in a virtual setting, my administrator really inspired me to use the virtual tools available to me to meet with the students on their time (typically the evenings).  Now finding the right tool was going to be important.

After some playing around with video conferencing tools, I found one that really meets my requirements for conducting trainings and conferencing.  My new favorite tool is called Zoom!

Zoom Basics

If you are like me and do not have a large budget, Zoom has a free option for conferencing. The free option includes:
  • Meeting with up to 50 participants.
  • Unlimited meetings
  • 40 minutes of conferencing.
  • Video recording and sharable links.
  • Ability to download and share documents and desktop.
  • Options to mute and hide participants.
  • Ability for participants to observe without participating in video conferencing.
  • Option to call in if participant cannot access the internet or a computer.
Although there are lots of other VOIP sites available for free, Zoom seems to offer the most bang for your buck (or lack of buck).  Here are some other services that have free options so check it out for

Other Types of Video Conferencing With Students

To be fair, I wanted to include other free services so you can make your own decision about which video conferencing service is best for you.  Here are four I like to share with you.

Skype - Downloadable video chat that allows participants to communicate individually or in large groups.  Check out the guidebook for educator and student led video conferencing.

Google Hangout - Unfortunately my school forbids the use of many Google products (sigh).  However, if your school is Google friendly, Google Hangout is an awesome tool for videoconferencing if you have up to 10 people.  Google Hangout allows document sharing from Google Docs, screen sharing, sharing links for public viewing, and the creation of circles for requesting meetings.  Check out this how to guide by Dr. Erin Mason.

Google Hangout Video Instructions

MeetingBurner - Cloud based meeting forum which allows up to 10 people to share their screens and audio conference.  The downside of the free service is that it does not record your sessions.

Pligus - Free program that allows up to 10 people to share screens, text, upload documents, and even draw at the same time.

Source:  5 Video Conference Tools for Student Group Projects

How Can Zoom Be Used by School Counselors?

My administrator and I have spoken extensively about how we can expand school counseling services to our online and regular school students.  Here are some ideas that we brainstormed for online services:

1. The school counselor can use it for training students to fill out an application for college, completing scholarship applications, helping parents complete the FASFA, assisting students in calculating their grade point averages, and more.

2. The school counselor can set up small groups when face to face sessions are not available during the day.

3.  Pre recorded sessions can be created when counselors need to share information with teachers, parents or students.

4.  Pre recorded classroom guidance lessons can be created on specific topics (study skills, cyberbullying, etc.).

5.  The school counselor can organize and share advisement lessons using students from a remote location.

6.  Zoom is great for after hour conferences with parents and students.  This is a lifesaver for those parents who work late or have transportation issues.

7.  The school counselor can hold parent conferences remotely when attendees are unable to be at one location.

8.  The school counselor can collaborate and share ideas with other colleagues!

If you conduct video conferencing meetings with your parents and students, I would love to hear from you.  Feel free to reach out to me!!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Count Down To No Name Calling Week

Saturday, December 26, 2015
It is the end of the semester and I am visiting one of our virtual labs to check on our students' progress, discuss their grades, talk about finals, and hear about their experiences on taking online classes. On the morning of my visit, the lab monitor was out of the lab and the students were working diligently on their courses.  Although the lab was small, the majority of the students were quiet, hard working, and on task (a lab monitor's dream). However, there was the one student...yes, there is always one.  He arrived late that morning and his presence shattered the silence of the lab like a rock going through a window.  Automatically, the students came alive by telling jokes, singing, and then throwing verbal jabs at one another.  While there were a few students who were still quiet, this one student started to make fun of the others by making up songs about them.  As his songs got more offensive, the reactions increased from the other students (quiet and not so quiet ones).  He was relentless and I just could not stand it any longer!

Finally, I looked at the kid and said, "That is enough. I want you to stop right now."  Immediately, it was on and he turned his wrath toward me. He became so abusive that I asked him to leave, BUT he refused!!   Quickly turning to my crisis skills, I looked at the all the kids in the small room and I said, "I need everyone out now!"  They asked if I was serious and I said that I was very serious.  After the students walked into the next room, which was the media center, the kid and I had a lengthy discussion (it really didn't go the way I wanted it to go).  The result of our discussion was that the student saw no harm in his comments to the other students and felt that I was overreacting.  At this point, the student and I had to agree to disagree, but it really made me think of how our virtual students could benefit from some respect education.

Creating Safer and Respectful Classrooms

Name Calling is not attractive!
If I had a penny for every name I heard students call each other, I would never have to worry about reloading my Starbucks card for my daily Hot Green Tea Chai.  Unfortunately, name calling is everywhere...schools, the community, the teachers' lounge, the presidential debates, our homes...well, you get the point.  How can we expect students to act any differently when our conversations, songs, movies, and debates are full of name-calling (whether intentional or not). Although we can't control what goes on outside of school, we can set up a safe learning environment.  As a school counselor, it is my responsibility to help our staff create respectful learning environments. The Anti-Defamation League has created a working agreement that I am going to take to our lab monitors to help them create a safer and respectful classroom. This agreement includes creating an environment that promotes the following characteristics:
  • Students should be able to listen to each other with respect and remember that not everyone will agree with their views and opinions.
  • Each student should speak from his or her own experiences and refrain from judging others.  Using I-messages can help students speak from their own values and experiences.
  • Educators can help create an environment where students can ask questions without fear of judgment or criticism.
  • School staff can create respect for confidentiality by making sure it is safe for students to share personal experiences.
  • While every student has the right to share his or her ideas, it is important that everyone is given the same amount of time to speak and share ideas.
Before taking these ground rules into the lab, I am going to do a little data collection to see how students feel about the climate in the virtual labs.  After implementing these rules, I will take a post assessment to see if students feel the ground rules made a difference in their learning environment.  I will update you on how this works!!

You can check out this resource from ADL for establishing classroom ground rules. Also, here are some additional resources on how to handle offensive language and how to create upstanding behavior.

What to Say to "That's So Gay"
Upstander Engagement Sheet
Take a Stand, Lend a Hand

Countdown to No Name Calling Week and How to Prepare!

Since January is the beginning of a new semester and the new year, it is a great time to help teachers establish respectful ground rules in those classroom that seem to lack a civil culture (you know what classrooms I am talking about).  During the week of January 18-22, schools can participate in No Name Calling Week by involving students and staff in respectful communication and creating a culture of acceptance.

Ways to Celebrate No Name Calling Week

No Name Calling Week Challenges shared by Sara Schmidt from The Teaching Tolerance Website

1.  Challenge your students and staff to call each other by their given name instead of using potentially derogatory names like "sweetie" (ok, now you are talking to me), "honey", "sexy", etc.

2.  Have students to keep a tally of how many names they hear in a week at school, home, on the bus, at work, while playing sports, shopping, etc.  Ask them to report the most common names they have heard used by others by writing them on a piece of paper and then posting them on a bulletin board.  You may need to get administrative approval to do this and censor the names.

3.  Participate in a act of kindness by doing something unexpected for someone you may know or don't know.  Check out the 30 Easy Random Acts of Kindness from Eat, Sleep, Be blog.  Another website is Do Something which has a lot of great ideas for teens.

4.  Have students participate in the No Name Calling Survey to gather information regarding how they feel about experiencing name calling.

5.  Conduct a "What's In a Name" poster contest about what one can do when he or she is called a  name.

Poster Advertising the NNCW Student/Staff Challenge

Also, download additional posters to advertise NNCW to your school.

Bullybust has a great resource for school counselors to use film clips to show how name calling and bullying can impact students. Although there are many other clips, here are ones that can be used during No Name Calling Week.

The Christmas Story and the Triple Dog Dare

Beware of the Triple Dog Dare!

Discussion Questions:

1.  Do your friends impact what you say and do?  How?  Why?
2.  Do you think this is true for other people as well?  Can you give an example?
3.  What makes a dare so powerful?
4.  What would happen if we say no to a dare?
5.  What is peer pressure?
6.  Give example of peer pressure at school?

Action Steps:

Try to help someone who is doing something potentially harmful only because they want to seem cool and accepted to the group.  Share the experience.

Dead Poet's Society: The Courtyard is Yours!

Walk the courtyard...or not!

Discussion Questions:

1.  What happens when you follow your own rules and not the rules of the crowd?
2.  Is there a time when you felt that you could really think independently and form your own thoughts?
3.  Why do people confirm to the opinion of others?  When has this happened to you.

Action Steps:

Find an issue or situation you feel strongly about and form your own thoughts.

Sky High and Friendship

You are my friend, but I am going to believe a lie about you.

Questions to Ask:

1.  How do you know if someone is telling you the truth about another friend?
2.  What should you do when you hear something bad about a friend?
3.  Give some examples of loyalty in a friendship?

Action Steps:

Give examples of how you can show support for someone that others put down?
Find one way to include someone who is different into your group.

The War and Dealing With Bullying Behavior

What did I do to deserve your hate?

Questions to Ask:

1.  Does kindness work with people who bully?
2.  Why is it hard to be nice to someone who is mean to you?
3.  What generally happens when we are mean to those who are mean to us?
4.  What the meaning of the statement: "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind?"

Action Steps:

Speak to someone who has tried to treat others with kindness and find out about their perspective.

Need more ideas?  I got them for you!!  Check out these other activities to celebrate No Name Calling Week.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

School Counselors: Tis the Season to Write a Recommendation Letter!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Ding, ding...its round two of recommendation letter season for seniors.  Every January, I often feel like I am drowning in writing recommendations for scholarships, colleges, and summer internships.  Currently, I have several requests for Gates Millennium recommendations from former students; several students have stopped by and asked for recommendation letters for scholarships due in January; and let's not forget all the parents who have called requesting letters because they believe I know more about their kid than I really do. 

Okay, I am starting to feel overwhelmed just writing this post!!

January is the second round of recommendations!

Although I am not physically in a role as high school counselor, I am always a counselor so many of my former families contact me about writing letters. While I have an ethical responsibility to these students, I also have to think about the unwritten rules for writing letters for students I don't really know that well.  So, what are the rules when it comes to writing recommendation letters for these students (yes, there are rules!)?  Unfortunately, many school counselors, myself included, are often oblivious about these unwritten rules. In this post, I hope reveal these guidelines so you can avoid letter writing pitfalls and problems.

Why Should School Counselors Write a Recommend Letter?

Bring your students stories to life!
So, way bother writing a letter? Instead of thinking about letter writing as an unfortunate "duty" (yes, I am guilty of thinking like this too), imagine it as an opportunity to advocate for your students by highlighting their strengths, showing their potential to thrive, and bringing their story to life for colleges.  Although teachers' letters are important, a school counselor's letter is extra special. So, how is a school counselor's recommendation different from a teacher's recommendation?  A teacher's recommendation often has a
narrow focus and centers on the student's presence in the classroom.  Teachers write about the student's ability to learn in class, leadership ability in the classroom,  and how the classroom may benefit from the student's presence.  A school counselor's recommendation has a much broader scope.  The focus of the school counselor's letter can include information about student character, academic strengths, passions, areas of leaderships, and past obstacles. To me, I am sharing a rare glimpse about that student's life that college's will never see!

How to Get Started!!

College expert and blogger, Rebecca Safier, gives some excellent advice and examples on how to write a great recommendation letter. First of all, school counselors need to remember that colleges actually take school counselor recommendations seriously (yes, it is true some college committees may not, but we will not discuss this here)! According to ASCA expert Dr. Carolyn Stone, in a ASCA survey regarding college recommendations, only 12% out of 558 respondents felt that their recommendation letter made a difference in college acceptance. The College Board states that a counselor recommendation can make a significant difference when a student has a low score on an admission exam or mediocre grades in college acceptance process. The Independent College Counselors Educational Consultants website states that because school counselors know more about their students in the school setting over an extended period of time, they are competent to make a qualified recommendation.   In fact, William Fitzsimmons of Harvard University revealed they often project letters of recommendation for all the committee members to see and read (yikes)!

So, how exactly are those letters used by college committees? Recommendations can help a student in each of following areas:
  • Admission acceptance
  • Review of provisional students for acceptance
  • Scholarship offers
  • Special programs acceptance
Since school counselors have large numbers of letters to write, it is easy for the quality of our letters to diminish. Therefore, it is important that we provide appropriate content and keep the interest of our audience.  Also, we need to know how to tell our students' stories. While teachers can tell the academic story of a student,  our narrative should be about student growth.  In addition to addressing growth, school counselors should point out students' strengths and qualities.  Examples can include past achievements, potential for growth, and commitment to the school community.  Rather than chronologically listing a student's resume (uh hum), highlighting a students involvement in community service, participation in sports, leadership ability, and passion for a particular subject can speak volumes! Another important point that colleges and scholarship committees look for is your relationship with that student.  Speaking about a specific anecdote can show the committee that you really know this student.  Another point I like to make is use of  language.  Don't use cliche or pithy language; however, use power words like strong communication skills, empathetic, committed, passionate, and curious.  Also, speaking about a student's potential future is important and can include descriptions about a student's past achievement. This can show an admissions committee that they are making a good investment in this student!! 

Before writing a letter,  always make sure you get appropriate information about your student.  Unfortunately, I have been guilty of forgetting to do this important step which can mean the difference between an outstanding and poor letter.

Here are some questions to consider when writing a recommendation:

1.  What is the context of your relationship to the student?
2.  Has the student demonstrated intellectual risks (Advanced Placement and/or Dual Enrollment)?
Your letter when you don't know your student!

3.  Does the student have any talents, leadership abilities, or unusual skills?
4.  What will you remember most about this student?
5.  Has the student had any difficult circumstances and how did he or she react to them?
6.  Are there any unusual family or community circumstances that impacted this student?

The College Board gives some excellent resources for school counselors to collect information about students in order to write a great recommendation letter.  These resources include teacher recommendation forms, questionnaires, and a student self assessment.

Here is a short excerpt from a good recommendation letter from MIT:
Mary has contributed to the school community in a variety of ways, most notably through her participation on the newspaper and yearbook staffs. Frankly, I am impressed with her aggressiveness, creativity, determination and ability to schedule extracurricular activities around a full academic workload. I have never heard Mary complain about her workload or refuse any assignment that she has been given. It is not adequate to say that she accepts responsibility readily. She seeks responsibility. Oh, for more such students!
As business manager for the paper and co-editor of the yearbook the past two years, Mary has done an outstanding job. She personally brought the town's business community from the view that the school newspaper was a charitable organization to the realization that the paper is a direct pipeline through which advertisers can reach students. She also took the initiative to set up the advertising rate schedule for the paper that produced enough revenue to expand coverage from a four-page paper, so that it is an eight-page and often twelve-page paper. Her work as photographer for both publications has been equally outstanding.
Her motivation is not forced upon her, nor does she wear it like a badge. She has tremendous self-discipline. Mary is also a dedicated, versatile and talented student who will be an asset to your undergraduate community. She has my respect and my highest recommendation.
Avoid these pitfalls!
Now that we know what to include in our letter, we must talk about no no's.  Safier gives some qualities of a weak recommendation letter.  First, avoid using quantitative data like gpa or number of years in a sports or club (I have been guilty of this). Avoid using generic language, lukewarm praise, or using adjectives without examples. For goodness sake, don't use a template.  Yes, I have done this when I first started writing letters and it was hard to give it up!  Here is a overview of what to include in the letter.

The Recommendation Letter Structure

1.  Keep it to one page!

2.  In the introduction, talk about how you are qualified to write this letter and what you know about this student.  Writing a catchy opening statement is important in getting the reader's attention.

Here is an example of a catchy opening statement:  Buffy, a great student who can do it all!

3.  In the body of your letter, tell the student's story. This can include awards, successes, challenges, leadership skills, and service. The Associated College of the Midwest gives some suggestions for your body.
  • Move from general to specific examples.
  • Use topic sentences to your points.
  • Don't reiterate information that is found on the transcript.
4.  In your conclusion, reiterate your support of the student and an invitation for representatives to reach out to you.  It is here that you may address any concerns you may have about the student in a positive manner and be sure to continue and reinforce strengths the student will take with him or her to college. Check out the sample letter and suggestions below for more ideas.

Sample Letter
How to Write a Letter of Recommendation

Preparing for the Emergency Recommendation

Yes, this will happen! In fact, I have numerous students who ask me to be a nominator or recommender for the Gates Millennium Scholarship in January even though the deadline is mid-January. Although the majority of students ask me several weeks in advance, there are often students who need help at the last minute (this generally happens because their person doesn't follow through or forgets to submit the recommendation).  In cases where a student may ask you to make a last minute recommendation, it is important to always set guidelines for these students.

The Importance of the Gates Millennium Scholarship

Student Guidelines When Asking  for a Letter of Recommendation

Rebecca Safier and Big Future give students some tips on how to ask for a recommendation letter.

1.  Because educators are inundated with recommendation letter request, ask for letters early (i.e. September).
2.  The best way to ask for a recommendation letter is in person.  The Ivy Coach says that students need to take time to speak personally to their counselor.
3.  Waive your right to view your recommendation letter by signing the FERPA waiver.
4.  Make sure your references know your deadlines for letters.
5.  Give your teacher/school counselor some information about you in a brag sheet or resume.  Here are some examples of recommendation packets, students brag sheets, and parent questionnaires.

Recommendation Guideline Packet from Kamehameha School Counselors
Recommendation Guideline Packet from Coppell ISD
Recommendation Guideline Packet from South Tahoe High School Counselors
Recommendation Guideline Packet from Wayzata High School Counselors

Brag Sheet #1
Brag Sheet #2
Brag Sheet #3

Parent Brag Sheet #1
Parent Brag Sheet #2
Parent Brag Sheet #3

Great resource from my friend, Carol Miller! Check out her blog, The Middle School Counselor!!

6.  Schedule at least two face to face meetings with your school counselor to talk about your future.
7.  Follow up with your school counselor about one to two weeks before the letter is due.
8.  Give your recommenders stamped envelopes. 
9.  Always send a thank you letter to your school counselor.

A Word of Caution For School Counselors When Writing Recommendations

Dr. Carolyn Stone is my go to person when it comes avoiding traps that school counselors can face in their practice.  At the beginning of this post, I warned you about avoiding pitfalls when writing a recommendation letter for students.  One of the vulnerabilities you may face is writing a letter for a student that you do not really know.  This happened to a school counselor in 2010 and the outcome was not favorable for that counselor!

The parents of Shannon McCoy brought a lawsuit against their school district regarding a recommendation letter the school counselor wrote for their daughter.  Shannon was a champion swimmer who maintained a 3.0 gpa and she had earned a scholarship to Colorado State University.  The parents alleged that Colorado State had rescinded the scholarship offer due to a libelous and fabricated letter sent by the school counselor.  Apparently, the school counselor had written a letter based solely on information from gathered from teachers and failed to meet with the student to discuss her character, service, and integrity.  Although the majority of school counselors feel uncomfortable including negative comments in their letters, the McCoy decision makes the point that if negative comments are included, they must be backed up with specific examples.  If you feel that you cannot write a positive recommendation for a student or you do not know the student well enough to write a good letter, Marna Atkins from Atkin College Counseling says that counselors may decide to opt out.  However, if you decide to opt out of writing a letter it may not be helpful to the student in the college admissions process. My suggestion is to sit down with the student and interview him or her so you can say something positive about that student.

So, I hope this post has been helpful in giving you some guidance in writing a high quality letter. Tis the season!

A recommendation letter is a great gift for your students!

Saturday, December 19, 2015

January 2016 Awareness Events

Saturday, December 19, 2015

I can't believe it is almost January!  A new year to help our students and promote awareness for serious issues like human trafficking, drug awareness, and promoting kindness.  In January, school counselors have an excellent opportunity to bring awareness to these societal problems and make a big difference in their school community!

National Mentoring Month

Stress the importance of creating real relationships in everyday life by promoting  mentoring relationships. 

What is Peer Mentoring?
Link Crew
National Mentoring Partnership

Thank your mentor day

January 18

National Day of Service

The MLK Day of Service is an excellent opportunity to empower students to help find solutions to local problems, break down barriers, and help students learn about the importance of community service.  

MLK Toolkit
Lesson Plans
Find a Service Project
Youth Service America
Generation On
Semester of Service Toolkit
Do Something
Ideas for Students

Some Ideas Include:

National Human Trafficking Prevention Month

Prevention Day - January 11

According to National Homeland Security, human trafficking the the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain.  

Educate your staff and students about the signs and dangers of human trafficking. 

Resources and educational materials.
Polaris Project
Guide for Parents
Blue Campaign 
Awareness Training
Indicators of Trafficking
Fact Sheets

January 18-22

No Name Calling Week

According to GLSEN,  the purpose of No Name Calling Week is to celebrate kindness and respect for others. 

Planning Kit

School Counselor Activities:

  • Continue anti-bullying messages and activities.  Consider running a friendship group for students who are the targets of bullying behavior.
  • Conduct classroom presentations about bullying.
  • Lead students in team building exercises.
  • Educate students about empathy using social emotional learning lessons.
  • Empower students to stand against bullying behavior and what to do if they see it happening.
  • Conduct NNCW lesson plans.
  • Help teachers to establish a No Name Calling policy in their classroom.
  • Encourage students to sign the No Name Calling Pledge.
  • Have students to take the No Name Calling survey. 
January 25-31

Drug Fact Awareness Week

The purpose of Drug Fact Awareness Week is to shatter the myths about drug use among teens. 

Promotional Materials

Get Ideas and Activities

Plan Your Event

Posters and Brochures

Free Publications


National Drug IQ Quiz

Lesson Plans

Peer Intervention

Interactives and Videos


The New Electronic Game: Sexting

The New Electronic Game: Sexting

In 1998, the Japanese would invade America for a second time.  This invasion did not include airplanes or bombs, but it involved quirky animated characters who evolved from cute pets to powerful creatures. For instance, the popular character Pikachu, companion of the hero Pokémon trainer Ash,  evolved from Pichu and occasionally took on the form of Raichu. While Meowth, companion of the Ash's competitors, could morph into Persian.  (Yes, I really know too much about this stuff...sigh).

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, this Japanese craze became popular with almost every child in our community elementary school. Eventually, this phenomenon would quickly spread to the Morton household.

At first it started with the Morton children religiously watching this show after school; then the kids began to ask to buy these strange cartoon props called Pokeballs; and later they began trading Pokémon cards with their friends.  Eventually, these Pokémon cards became a source of pride among the kids at the elementary school where they would participate in competitions during recess.  In fact, these Pokémon games would become a source of disruption in the school and our school decided to ban the trading cards.  However, this ban did little to dissuade the kids from playing, collecting, and buying new cards. It was amazing to see how these elementary school children become skilled at sneaking the cards into the school and strategizing how they would one up their friends. Okay, I know you are wondering what Pokémon trading cards have to do with this blog topic about sexting, but if you will indulge me for a minute, I think I can show you the connection between trading games and sexting.

Sexting, An Electronic Trading Game in Played in Schools

This year, two districts (one in New Jersey and another in Colorado) discovered students participating in games which involved the sending of nude photos to other students.  In New Jersey, police charged 20 high and middle school male students with invasion of privacy for participating in an electronic trading card like ring where they passed around naked photos of female students.  Then, earlier in November, another electronic trading game was exposed which involved over 100 high and middle school students.  These male and female students were trading nude photos with each other on a secret ghost application. In the New Jersey case, parents quickly rushed to the boys' defense demanding that the girls be punished for their "Jezebel" like behavior.  This quickly escalated when parents perpetuated the blame on the victims for sending these photos.  One parent, in the New Jersey case, actually compared the sending of these photos as a juvenile trading card game. The parent made the following comment in an interview with the local news:

“The girls know that the boys trade them and it’s kind of a game that the girls want to be involved in. They need to step back and really take a full look at this. The girls are just as responsible as the boys.”

Another parent commented, "...someone [should address] the trashy daughters and failure parents whose kids feel comfy enough to do such things, punish them as well.

While another said, “The girls passed the pictures around, can't expect them NOT to be shown and shared.”

While it may be true that students were aware their photos would be shared with others, there were a large number of students who felt pressured to send nude photos and those who thought they were only sharing photos with their the person they liked.  Although there are dangers involved in teen sexting, the real issue is the lack of education regarding consent.

What is Sexting?

According to Raychelle Lohmann, sexting includes sending, receiving, or forwarding sexual photos or sexual messages through email or text messages. According to a study from the Utah Department of Psychology, researchers found that 20% of teens, ages 14-18, have sent sexual images via their cell phones.  In addition, twice as many teens admitted to receiving a sext and over 25% reported forwarding those images to others.

Unfortunately, one third of teens from the study were unaware of the legal ramifications or consequences of sexting.  In fact, many of the teens believed that their behaviors were acceptable and justifiable!  In another study by the University of Texas Branch, researchers found that teens who sext were more likely to engage in sexual behaviors.  In their study, 28% of teens admitted to having sex; 76.2% of teens who were propositioned to sext eventually began having sexual intercourse; girls were asked to send photos more than guys;  the peak age of sexting is age 16;  and sexting begins to decline after age 18.

So to whom are teens sending sexual images and texts?  The majority of sexts (63%) are sent to boyfriends/girlfriends, 29% of sexts are sent to someone the teen is causally dating, and 19% of photos are sent to people they have met online. Truly, the reasons vary why teens choose to sext other teens.  In addition, 49% of teens sext because they feel it is fun, 39% of teens do it to receive photos, 16% of teens do it to because their friends are sending them photos, and 13% said they felt pressured to send photos.

There are many other reasons teens decide to sext. Some of these reasons include:
  • It is an expression of love.
  • They may be curious.
  • It is a form of impulsive behavior.
  • Type of flirting behavior. 
  • Form of truth or dare game.
  • Reaction to peer pressure.
  • An expression of anger from an ex for the purpose of humiliation, revenge porn.
  • Form of blackmail.
With the influx of sexting among teens, it seems that this has become a normal part of teen culture.

Is Sexting the New Normal?

Researchers have found that sexting has become the new "first base" for teens.  Although this type of sexual behavior is not new, the medium for expressing their behavior is new for parents and schools.  Dr. Jeff Temple, from the University of Texas, said "I'll show you mine, if you show me yours'" has always existed, but the new medium of the cell phone has taken this game to a whole new level.  What makes sexting so easy to do in schools, is teens' knowledge of secret photo storing applications like, vault app. These applications hide pictures under images like a calculator or beign picture.  After taking or receiving sexting photos, the teens store these photo in their vault until they open it with a password to share with other students. There are many types of secret apps that teens are using to hide and share photos.

There are many types of secret apps. Here are some your students may be using:

1.  Photo Safe - This app claims to hide your photos by renaming them in the gallery.
2.  Keep Safe Vault - Uses a hidden directory and renames your photos.
3.  Hide Photos and Text Messages - Encrypts photos and enables an error message when trying to open them.
4.  Photo Gallery - Encrypts photos and makes it difficult to access them by others.
5.  Vaulty- Asks for a series of permissions to access pictures.
6.  Snapchat- Pictures disappear after a certain amount of time.
7.  Private Photo Vault-Apple app that has been the 28th most downloadable photo and video app.

Want to know more about secret apps, please see this additional lists of other secret file sharing apps.

Once photos are out shared with other the students, it is important that parents and school personnel react appropriately.

Does Society Really Discourage Sexting?

Professor Amy Hasinoff believes how society reacts to sexting can be as damaging as the act itself.  She found that society has four different techniques in trying to discourage sexting.

1.  Criminalization - Threatening to prosecute teens who send or receive photos as sex offenders.  The sexting laws have not been able to keep up with technology and some states are doing away with their antiquated laws. Outdated laws can have the impact of blaming the victim for getting them into trouble which can lead to bullying and slut shaming.

2.  Abstinence - Hasinoff believes telling kids not to sext can be as ineffective as telling a student not to have sex. Parents and schools need to take a more proactive stance and educate students about appropriate uses of social media and the consequences.

3.  Encouraging parents to monitor social media by using the newest surveillance apps is not always effective: however,  it is better to provide adequate education about privacy and trust.

4.  Blaming technology for the problem. Hasinoff believes more focus needs to be on privacy rights and norms of individuals more than free speech.

Although 90% of students do not experience any negative consequences, there are some students who have traumatic circumstances that occur after sending a sext.  It is important that students know, even if they decide to sext, how to stay safe. Some tips from Hasinoff include:

1.  Not everything digital should be made public with your peers.
2.  Students should learn, promote, and provide the affirmative consent model in relationships with their peers. Hasinoff says that teens should view sexting as a sex act and make sure they have their peers' consent before sharing any images.
3.  Make sure your peers or the person you are in a relationship with wants to receive an image before you decide to send it.
4.  Students should never coerce or force a person to send or receive a photo.
5.  Students should use safe sexting strategies like: cropping others' out of the photo, take out identifying features, and delete old photos of others.
6.  Students should avoid blaming the victim of their own privacy violations.
7.  Schools should provide rehabilitation type punishment for students who do not have consent to share photo that includes community service, an apology later to the victim, and consent focused education.

Video Regarding "Safer" Sexting

In addition to educating students, education needs to be available for educators and parents.  Here are some additional tips for educators and parents regarding keeping students safe.

1.  Don't simply say to teens not to sext as the majority of them will do it regardless  of our protests.

2.  Avoid scare tactics like "your texts will be distributed to others."  In fact, teens already know that their texts will be distributed and 90% of teen sexts are shared consensually.

3.  Parent surveillance is not always the best solution to teen sexting.  Teaching about privacy rights and trust can be more effective.

4.  Avoid telling teens that their future jobs and college prospects will be ruined and that their images will be viewed by pedophiles. Although private images can be distributed without a teens permission, telling teens these messages can promote shame and fear.

5.  Avoid telling girls that avoiding sexting will allow them to preserve their self-respect and self-esteem.  This perpetuates victimization and slut shaming.

6.  Use sexting as an opportunity to talk to teens about sex before they have a physical sexual relationship. 

So, what can school counselors do to keep students safe?  Here are some additional messages that can be shared with students in schools. 

Better Messages for Teens

1.  Teach about consent and privacy.

2.  Talk about norms and expectation of privacy on the internet and cell phones.

3.  Be role models for teens when it comes to digital privacy.

4.  Discuss how sexting is similar to sexual activity and requires consent, respect, and ethical behavior.

5.  Focus on the importance of not distributing nonconsensual photos.

6.  Discuss rape culture, slut-shaming, and double standards regarding sexting in our society.

7.  Discuss potential legal consequences with teens regarding sexting in your state.

Here is a video for parents regarding the "sext talk".

When Sexting Becomes Abusive?

Although many students willingly consent to sexting,  teens need to be aware of the differences between a healthy and unhealthy digital relationship. Love is Respect researchers believe that relationships often exist on a spectrum and it is often hard to know when a relationship goes from healthy to abusive.  In a study by Indiana University, one out of five students indicated that they experienced sexual coercion or feeling forced by a partner to send digitally explicit photos or messages. When teens or young adults feel pressured to send explicit photos or messages, this is considered sexual abuse.  Although the majority of teens believe it is normal to feel pressured to send photos, researchers say it a form of digital abuse. Check out the Power and Control Wheel  which can help students to determine if they are in an abusive relationship. In addition,  Love Is Respect provides advice to teens on how to recognize and deal with sexual abuse online

1.  If a teen is feeling pressured, he or she should establish boundaries and feel empowered to say no. That's Not Cool gives students call out cards that can be sent instead of explicit photos or messages.  I absolutely love these!!

Add caption
2.  Teens should be aware of laws in their state regarding sending explicit photos.  While many states are reducing sexting from a felony to a misdemeanor, there are states that still charge teens with possessing child pornography. Check out your state on this list.

3.   If a student decides to send a explicit photo, he or she should leave out identifying features like tattoos, his or her face, or birthmarks.

4.  If someone is threatening to forward a photo, known as revenge porn, there are resources that students can access to get their photos taken down or discover their rights under the law.

Undox Me-Helps students get their photos removed from the internet.
Laws Regarding Revenge Porn

5.  If a teen is going through a traumatic experience after texting, it is important that he or she turns to his or her support system.

Before your school becomes involved in a sexting scandal (yikes), consider educating your students about sexting, consequences of sexting, and how to conduct "safer" sexting (because no matter how much we say not to sext it is going to happen).  

Consequences of Sexting

1.  68% of teens who felt pressured to sext had feelings of remorse and shame.
2.  Students who are coerced or feel pressured to send sexts often become the victims of bullying.
3.  Creation of traumatic memories called flashbulb memories that become etched in our minds.
4.  Legal consequences including registering as a sex offender.

Here are some lesson plans, videos, and resources for school counselors.

Lesson Plans on Sexting

Overexposed - Students are given a scenario and asked to finish the story.  Also includes handouts, resources, and a quiz for students.

School counseling sexting lesson plan


Oversharing Poster - Poster that shares the inappropriate to overshare information to others on social media.

11 Facts About Sexting

Are Young Girls Under Pressure to Send Naked Selfies?


CNN: Chances Are, Your Teen Has Sexted

CNN: What's the Big Deal About Sexting?

The Dangers of Teen Sexting

Naked Celeb Hack Lesson: When Delete Doesn't Mean Delete

Sexting and Sextortion Webinar

Sexting is the New Flirting

Sexting Scandal in Colorado

Teens and Cellphones Ebook

Teen Sexting Parent Brochure -  Informational brochure from Weld County, Colorado.

Teen Sexting is Not a Felony

University of Texas Medical Branch: Teen Hormones and Cellphones

Why Parents Should Replace the Sex Talk With the Tech Talk

Check out my other posts regarding sexting for school counselors.

No Taking It Back, A Plethora of Teen Sexting Resources

Electronic Heroin

Dangers of Teen Sexting

How to-use the Steubenville Rape Case as a Teachable Moment