Sunday, February 22, 2015

Extreme Song of the Siren: Western Girls Join ISIS

Sunday, February 22, 2015
As I am searching the news over my winter break, I ran across this unbelievable story about three British school girls who left  home to join ISIS in Syria.  At first I thought this story was an anomaly, but after some research, I found out that this situation is becoming more of a common occurrence for young women from the West. So after finding out about this serious issue, I decided to share my research with my fellow school counselors.  For school counselors, the question becomes if this is a passing phase or a dangerous new trend that may impact our teenage girls?

One last introductory comment, this was a very difficult post to write and I really thought about stopping; however, I felt it was really important information to share!  I hope you will agree.

The ISIS Quiz

First, how much do you know about ISIS?  Before you read this blog any further, please take this quick quiz to test your knowledge. Just so you know I failed...

How Much Do You Know About ISIS? Take the quiz.

What is ISIS?

Okay, so what is the big deal about this group called ISIS and why should we be concerned as school counselors?

The root of ISIS was originally formed in the early 90's by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. After the US invaded Iraq in 2003, al-Zarqawi formed the forerunner to the present day terror group which had a similar message as Osama bin Laden.  Although al-Zarqawi and bin Laden had the same theology, al-Zarqawi targeted other Muslims who did not fall in line with his interpretation of the law. His violent campaigns eventually won him fame and even the praise of bin Laden. Eventually, al-Zarqawi emerged as a spiritual leader who began to insist that everyone should follow his harsh interpretation of Sharia Law. After the bombing of Iraq by the US, al-Zarqawi and his group faded and ISIS later reemerged after the US left Iraq in 2011. The new and current leader of ISIS, Baghdadi, expanded to Syria and reestablished their interpretation of Sharia Law. Baghdadi and his group target nonbelievers and the fighters are given discretion to bring any nonbeliever into the Islamic State by conversion or death. The goal of ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, is to bring Sharia Law to all nonbelievers even if it includes using foreign teens to accomplish their vision.
Resource: Short Political History of ISIS
Current ISIS Controlled Territory


So, why would a teenage girl leave her comfortable suburban home, travel to the Middle East, meet up with complete strangers, and join their cause?  

Psychologists have postulated the reasons why people join extreme or violent groups like cults, gangs, or terror groups. Some of these reasons include:
  • Searching for true friendship.
  • Looking to find a sense of identity.
  • Finding a worldview that determines right from wrong.
  • Exploring security in an uncertain world.
  • Searching for a lifestyle that has structure and order. 
Source: Psychology Today
If these groups offer such positive rewards then why are they so dangerous to our youth?

Dr. Adrian Furnham found five characteristics that make extremist groups dangerous:

1. Extremist groups demand that members sever ties with all family, friends, and organizations from their past so that they create a new identify that models the group.  When a young girl joins ISIS, she is not allowed to contact or go back home and she must dress in a hijab.

Young Westerner Takes on the Identity of ISIS
2. New members are required to show immediate obedience to all rules without question.  Once the girls arrive in Syria, they are required to take courses to help the cause of ISIS which includes: cooking, first aid, and firing a weapon.

3. Members must complete long hours of tedious work which results in physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion.  Girls are often ordered to cook for the soldiers, help with the sick, and serve as sexual slaves.

4. Because many of these groups need money to function, they involve their members in illegal activity.  It is reported that many of the girls who travel to the Islamic State are often sold into slavery after their partners are killed.  Much of the money made by ISIS is from the sale of women and girls.  

Here is the price scale for women who are sold into slavery:

  • A woman aged 40 to 50 – 50,000 dinars ($43)
  • A woman aged 30 to 40 – 75,000 dinars ($64)
  • A woman aged 20 to 30 – 100,000 dinars ($85)
  • A girl, aged 10 to 20 – 150,000 dinars ($128)
  • A child under nine – 200,000 dinars ($170)
  • Source: Isis Sex Slaves

    5. Extremist groups make it very difficult to leave their organization.  Girls are not allowed to come back home and if they make it back it is almost impossible.  Tareena Shakil, 25, left home with her boyfriend to fight with ISIS.  After making it to Syria, the militants tried to force her to marry and she escaped to Turkey. After escaping bullets and begging for her life, Tareena made it back to the UK where she was arrested by police.
    Source: A Living Hell

    Recently, CNN ran a story on why ISIS was so successful in luring Westerners to Syria. Here are the five biggest reasons that teens gave for joining the group (Hint: Girls are not joining ISIS because of sweet images of kittens or to get Nutella as originally reported by CNN)
    Kittens and Nutella Do Not Attract Teenage Girls to ISIS
    • Many teens said they were disillusioned with the West and wanted to find purpose in life. To find this purpose, they decided to join a movement with a goal and mission.
    • Most teens felt that ISIS appealed to their sense of duty in serving Allah.
    • ISIS use of video, social media, and technology has a great attraction for teens to join the cause of ISIS.
    • ISIS is masterful at using deceptive propaganda techniques to lure teens to "the promise land". Many of the propaganda films used by ISIS show an exciting adventure where teens can serve as heroes. For instance, in the propaganda films, ISIS uses their successes (i.e. beheading) to show great strength.
    Source: CNN Report: Why is ISIS so Successful at Luring Westerners?

    Why are Teen Girls Attracted to ISIS?

    The Anti Defamation League found in its research, Homegrown Islamic Extremism, that 32% of those who joined ISIS have been females. Ferran and Kreider believe there are many reasons why young women are attracted to ISIS. Some of the main ideas include: the idea of living a fantasy life, finding a spouse, experiencing excitement, ability to practice their religion, and finding the need for meaning in life.  In a Huffington Post article, Milevsky explains the history behind teens joining risky adventures (like the Crusades). Since adolescence is a time where teens are trying to find their identity, it is important they have a warm and nurturing environment that allows them to explore their interests in a healthy manner.  Lacking this type of environment, teens may choose to join a group (gang, cult, or terror group) to feel a sense of belonging and identity. Dr. Phyllis Chesler believes that girls may be disillusioned by the West and are looking for their Arabian Night to take them away from their pain.  Chesler knows too well about the dream of being taken away by her knight.  In her book, "An American Bride in Kabul", she writes about her experiences as a naive Westerner married into misogynistic society. Chesler outlines the future for young Western girls who decide to join the Islamic State in three different scenarios:

    1. The young girl may enter a proper marriage- In a proper marriage,  the young woman will be forced to wear a veil at all times, live among co-wives who fight for dominance, and will often be beaten. She will experience genital mutilation, a constant state of pregnancy, and her children will never belong to her.

    2.  The young girl may enter a temporary marriage or sexual jihad- In a temporary marriage, she may be passed from soldier to soldier and her marriage may only last for a hour or a day.

    3.  The young girl may be the victim of sex trafficking - Many young Westerners who are blond or red headed, have large breasts, and exceptionally white may be sold into slavery into harems in Saudi Arabia, Brunei, or the Gulf States.
    Source: LA Times: Islamic State's Soft Weapon

    What are the Steps in Joining ISIS:
      
    1.  First a young girl must find a jihadi mentor either online or in person.  Some jihadists recruit in colleges and high schools under the cover as a student group while others use social media outlets like twitter or Ask.Fm.
    2  Next, a vetting process is conducted to decide who is a spy or a true convert.
    3. Once, the vetting is complete, travel plans are arranged for the new convert to go to Turkey.
    4. When in Syria, the convert must pledge allegiance to the Islamic State.
    5. After an allegiance is made, the training process occurs and an assignment is given.
    For instance "al-Zawra" is a campaign that uses social media and videos to teach women to edit software and fight along with cooking and cleaning. This finishing school for girls teaches classes in five areas:
    • cooking and sewing
      Tips to become a "Jihadist Jane"
    • medical first aid
    • Islam and Sharia Law
    • weaponry
    • social media and computer editing
     Their website offers tips for girls who want to train as a jihadist:
    • Get fit: “Take a half hour every day to go jogging. Keep adding distance every day in order not to be a burden on your jihadi brothers.”  (They also recommend that women watch YouTube videos on how to use various weapons.)
    • Learn first aid: “Watch videos of first aid operations on the Internet and try to apply them on your young sister.”
    • Learn how to sew: “You are going to sew the clothes of Allah’s soldiers. Go to your mother and ask her to teach you about the sewing machine.”
    • Learn how to cook: “Open a Word document and write down quick recipes for cooking. Open the Internet and copy recipes from it. You are going to cook for Allah’s soldiers.”   
    Source: Isis Opens Jihadi Finishing School for Women
    6.  Finally, the recruit is adopted into the Islamic State and receives a stipend, wedding money, and a weapon.
    Source: How ISIS Recruits Westerners

    Who are the Westerners Traveling to Syria?

    Out of all the Westerners traveling to Syria, 10% of them are females. The majority of girls range from ages 16 - 24; university educated; come from middle class families; and travel from France, UK, Canada, US, and Australia. Researchers believe that many of the young women are naive, easily manipulated, and do not understand the origins of the conflict.  Those Western women who choose to join the movement are lured by propaganda to join the cause and often become wives of the fighters. 

    Three straight-A British teenagers on their mid-term break leave home to join ISIS in Syria.
    Teenage Girls Flee UK for Isis

    A young French girl, 15, found a recruiter on Face Book and left home to join ISIS in Syria.  Her family received several messages that she was okay and being treated well.  The young girl's brother traveled to Syria to find her thin and sick and tending to the wounded and orphans.  The family decided to take action and file kidnapping charges against her kidnappers.

    Twin sisters from the UK followed their brother to Syria to fight with ISIS.  After arriving in Syria, they married ISIS fighters.

    A 20 year old college student left Glasgow to marry an ISIS fighter.  She writes a blog urging other girls to travel to Syria to join the cause.

    A 19 year old US citizen and nurse's aid was found guilty of conspiring with ISIS. She was arrested and sentenced to 5 years.
    Schoolgirl Jihadists



    Two Austrian teenagers, 17 and 15, were recruited by a cleric, married Chechen militants, and traveled to Syria to join the fighting. After becoming pregnant, the girls contacted their families asking for their help to return home.  Austrian officials reported that one of the girls is now missing and the other one has been killed while fighting.
    Teens from Austria meet a sad fate
    Two Teen Girls Who Joined Isis Just Made a Big Statement

    How Can we Prevent Teenage Girls From Joining Extremist Groups? 

    While Western countries often fail to recognize the true needs of teens, extremist groups have been able to attract them by offering excitement, security, and identity. While buying expensive programs or hiring experts to come speak to our students and parents is an answer, there are some ways we can help teen girls find meaning in their lives.  Currently, there are no simple answers to this issue and there are hopes that there may be more guidance coming from The White House for schools.

    Schools can...
    • Encourage young girls to participate in community service projects that provide humanitarian relief to marginalized groups or partner with groups that provide help in the community.  One such organization is the Red Cross Leadership Club which offers service learning projects and disaster services possibilities for students in grades K-12.
    • Provide opportunities for students to participate in leadership opportunities to help them form a positive identity. 
    • Train students in conflict resolution skills so that they are able to solve their conflicts and help others who are experiencing conflict.
    • Help students get involved in causes that help others in their schools.  One great cause is National Bullying Prevention Day where students display upstanding behaviors in their school.
    Parents can...
    • Terrorism Analyst, Evan Kohlmann finds that it is imperative that parents communicate regularly with their student and listen to them as this is one important way to identify concerns early. 
    • Check the social media accounts of their students for any unusual or extremist comments. For example, some of the teens from Colorado had posts that were radical in nature.
    "I started to notice the people I called ‘friends’ weren’t my true friends. But the people who reminded me about my Deen (religious path) were my TRUE friends.”   

    "Those who identify as ‘gay’and ‘Muslim’ at the same time deserve death."

    “Muslims handing out apologizes (sic) because of 9/11 are a disgrace to the Ummah (global community of Muslims).” 
    • Check the history of their students' computers for any propaganda sites.  Anti Defamation League highlights two sites that target women as Al Zora Foundation and Khansa Foundation.
    Other Interventions

    If you have parents or students who may think have loved ones involved with an extremist group, here are some resources you can share with them.
    • Extreme Dialogue - This website aims to reduce the appeal of extremist groups among youth by offering positive alternatives to extremist propaganda.
    • FBI Guide to Internet Safety - Although not specific to extremist groups, the FBI provides guidance to parents if they suspect their child is peaking to an online predator.
    • In the state of Minnesota, if a parent suspects their child may be thinking of joining an extremist group they are encouraged to contact their religious leaders, family counselor, or mental health clinician before they contact the police. 

      Message of The White House Summit
    • In the state of Colorado, students are encouraged to report if they suspect their friends are talking to online predators.
    Additional Resources for Counselors:

    Anti Defamation League

    Partners Against Hate

    Hate Free Norfolk Resources

    Southern Poverty Law Center

    Southern Poverty Law Center: Speak Up Handbook

    Not In Our Town

    I would love to hear feedback from other Western counselors and your thoughts about this issue.  Thank you for taking the time to read this post!





    Thursday, February 19, 2015

    March Social Awareness Events for School Counselors

    Thursday, February 19, 2015

    It is hard to believe that it is almost March!  The month of March brings with it spring fever, state testing (yuck!), and the need for spring break for this school counselor.  Before we take a break, there are some important events that school counselors can bring awareness to in their schools.

    March 1st

    Self Harm Awareness 
    Educate your students and staff on how to identify and help those who self harm.  

    Healthy Place: Self Harm Awareness 
    Self Injury Webinar 
    Kati Morton-Sign up for a free workbook 
    Extraordinary School Counselor Blog - Self Injury Resources 



    March 18th

    Kick Butts Day 
    Allows youth to stand up and speak out against "Big Tobacco" by raising awareness about the problems of tobacco.

    Some no/low cost activities include:
    • How Tobacco Targets Me- Send your students on a hunt for how tobacco targets youth in stores.  Students should be looking for candy cigars, large advertisements outside of convenience stores, e-cigarettes, or  tobacco products near the candy aisle. Students should post their photos using the hashtag #tobaccotargetsme.
    • Chalk the Walk - Use sidewalk chalk on the main entrance or sidewalks to create visuals and quotes to grab students and staff about tobacco.
    • Fatal Flaws- This one takes a little time, but can make an impact.  Choose a fatal flaw on the Toll of Tobacco page and collect the items to display in a public place.
    • Cups in a Fence - Spell out a powerful message about tobacco in a chain link fence. 
    • Tombstones- Create tombstones with messages or facts about tobacco.

    March 23rd-27th

    National Peer Helper Week
    Show appreciation for your peer helpers!  Download the kit from the National Association of Peer Program Professionals.

    National Peer Helper Kit 

    Youth Violence Awareness
     Make your staff and students aware of youth violence and how to prevent it!  Download your activities from Students Against Violence Everywhere.

    Printable Activities from SAVE 


    Wednesday, February 18, 2015

    Educate Your School About the Tragedy of Eating Disorders: Eating Disorders Awareness Week

    Wednesday, February 18, 2015


    As I am sitting on couch, I notice a commercial about the importance of identifying the symptoms of autism early in children. Autism is a very serious disorder and it is important to identify the illness early. However, there is one mental illness with the highest mortality rate and many adults are unaware of the seriousness of this disorders in teens. Even in the medical community, this disorder  fails to receive the funding that other mental health disorders garner.  This mental health disorder is known as eating disorders.

    Funding for Mental Health Illnesses:

     llness                                            Prevalence                    NIH Research Funds (2011)
    Alzheimer’s Disease                      5.1 million                     $450,000,000
    Autism                                            3.6 million                     $160,000,000
    Schizophrenia                                 3.4 million                     $276,000,000
    Eating disorders                             30 million                      $28,000,000

    Resource: NEDA

    Types of Eating Disorders

    The public is unaware of the different types of eating disorders that have been identified by the medical community. The most common types of eating disorders include:

    Anorexia Nervosa
    • inability to maintain minimal normal body weight;
    • feelings of fear that one will gain weight;
    • distortion of body image;
    • amennorrhea or absence of three consecutive menstrual periods.
    Bulimia Nervosa
    • binging and purging behaviors occur twice a week for more than three months;
    • intense fear of gaining weight;
    • engage in a variety of purging behaviors including the use of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, fasting, and excessive exercising.

    Some newly identified disorders by the DSM include:

    Binge Eating Disorder
    • recurrent binge eating that occur twice weekly for a period of at least a period of six months;
    • a large amount of food is consumed in a short amount of time;
    • episodes include consumption until physically uncomfortable, eating when not hungry, often eating alone, and feeling disgusted with the behavior.
    • physical characteristics include obesity or being overweight.
     Anorexia Athletica
    • engage in excessive exercise;
    • obsession with caloric intake;
    • self worth determined by athletic performance.
    Over Exercise
    • a form of anorexia athletica;
    • exhaustion from one single workout or a consistent pattern of behavior;
    • experiencing physical, psychological, or social consequences. 
     What is Overexercise?

    In addition to the identified disorders, the medical community has identified some non specified disorders.

     Overeating
    • tend to eat when not hungry;
    • spend a lot of time thinking about eating;
    • excessive amounts of money are spent on food.
    Night Eating
    • tend not to eat in the morning or first half of the day;
    • majortiy of calories consumed in the evening;
    • sleep disrupted so person can eat;
    • person eats snacks rather than huge meals.
    Orthorexia
    • fixation of eating pure, right, or proper foods;
    • experience cyclical extremes, changes in moods, or isolation;
    • majority of time spent on spent preparing meals and resisting temptation;
    • failure to enjoy life.
    10 Ways to Spot an Orthorexic
     Resource: Eating Disorders Online

    Eating Disorders Awareness Week

    Next week is Eating Disorders Awareness Week and the focus is on early intervention and recognizing the diverse experiences of all people who encounter an eating disorder. As school counselors, it is important that we give resources to students and parents, aid in prevention, provide support, and provide referrals for treatment.  The theme of Eating Disorders Awareness Week is "I Had No Idea" and the National Association for Eating Disorders Awareness  has a kit that can be downloaded to educate your school about eating disorders.

    "I Had No Idea" - Kit for organizations.

    Activities for Schools

    How to Build a Life Size Barbie

    Host a Scale Smashing
    Sock It to Eating Disorders
    Eating Disorder Screening

    Share messages for social media

    Face Book Banners
    Twitter Banners
    Shareable Social Images

    Also, check out the educator toolkit on eating disorders. 

    The tool kit includes:
    • Teacher referral to school counselor
    • Tips for communicating with parents
    • Confidentiality
    • Treatment resources
    • Education treatment plan for staff
    • Tips for psychologists, school nurses, and coaches
    • Set of curriculum
    • Additional organizations and resources
    Educator Toolkit

    Here are additional resources for schools:

    Tips and Information for Coaches - great resource to give your coaches to identify ED early in students.

    DE Fact Sheet

    Early Intervention Resource for Schools

    School Guide for ED

    Signs and Symptoms Specific to the School Setting

    Eating Disorders Impact on Learning

    Recommended Dos for Being Supportive

    Recommended Don'ts for Being Supportive

    Confronting Someone with an ED

    Twelve Ideas Help People Eating Disorders Negotiate Holidays

    Pro Eating Disorders Websites

    Want more information on eating disorders?  Check out the following information!

    Eating Disorder Conference

    Videos

    Webinars

    Certification for Counselors

    Do you have parents that need help?  Check out the list of treatment centers and the parent toolkit.

    Treatment Centers in the US

    Toolkit for Parents

    Posters for you school:

    Poster for Bulimia Nervosa

    Other posters from ANAD:






    Tuesday, February 17, 2015

    Celebrate You!! National Peer Helper Week

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015


    I love my peer helpers; however, I don't think that I always give them the recognition they deserve.  This year, I am going to change this by giving them their own week of recognition.  If you have a peer helper program, you have an opportunity to show off your program as well!!   The National Association of Peer Program Professionals has designated the week of March 23-27 as National Peer Helper Week!!

    National Peer Helper Week

    To help with your week's activities, NAPPP has created a kit that you can download on their website.  Here are some of the items included in the kit: 
    • Sample proclamation
    • National Peer Helper Week logo
    • Sample media posts
    • Suggested activities including: create/wear a peer helper t-shirt, develop a video about your program, hold a ceremony, throw a party, or host special event
    • Sample ceremony script
    After your event, NAPPP asks that schools post their pictures to their face book page to show your spirit!!

    A few ideas from Jennifer Claire Moore Foundation:

     Video
     
    "I Am Me" - Bullying Awareness Video from Bay Minette Middle School in Bay Minette, AL.

    Event 
     
    Peer Helper Jubliee - Over 1000 students met at a local theater to talk about learn how to identify bullying.

    Jubliee Guidebook

    Please feel free to share your ideas!!

    Sunday, February 15, 2015

    Start a Peer Listening Program in Your School

    Sunday, February 15, 2015



    One particular morning, before I had my coffee, one of our staff members brought into my office two upset freshmen. One argued that she did not want to be in the counselor's office while the other one was
    very quiet and teary-eyed. On the couch by my door, there was an impatient parent waiting to see me (sans appointment) and several students who wanted work permits, transcripts, and to talk before the bell. Okay, I thought, I can do this!  Through all the commotion and lack of caffeine in my depleted veins, I decided to take the girls to our career center.  One of the girls protested saying that she was going to class; however, I promised her that I would come to check on them and then she could go. Now, I had to come up with a plan that included cloning myself.   

    Do you ever have mornings, days, or years like this?  There may be calm counseling offices in somewhere in the world, but not mine. From the time I walk in the door, it is hit the floor, zero to sixty, and nonstop action until I can leave in the afternoon.  Some days I eat lunch at my desk or forget to eat lunch (I am trying to change this habit) because we are so busy with the day to day problems and general school business. Realizing this pattern was not going to stop, I decided I had to put a plan into action (unfortunately, the cloning was not going to happen). Then it came to me...the "Breakfast Club". You know that 80's movie where five kids of diverse backgrounds come together and talk about the reason they were there on a Saturday.  Without an adult present, they were able to talk about their issues and even look at life from a different perspective. Taking the same concept, I think I could train my students to talk to their peers!!  AND this could be a great program to help our students and even our department (insert evil laugh)!! 
    Ally Sheedy before Peer Listening

    Ally Sheedy after Peer Listening
    So the idea was born (thanks to Molly, Michael, Emilio, Ally, and Judd) and I decided to train my peer helpers in peer listening skills. Many researchers agree that peers often seek help from other peers and there is a great deal of research to support that peer support benefits students. For instance, many youth-led programs in suicide prevention, drug education, conflict resolution, and mentoring have been found to be highly effective. Geldard states, from her research, that there are great differences in communication among adolescent peers and between an adolescent and adult.  In her thesis on peer pro-social behaviors, she identified peer listening as one of the most useful ways to help students. She identified the three stage problem solving by Egan as an effective model for peer listening.  


    Egan's Three Stage Model

    Stage 1
    Stage 2

    Stage 3

    Establishing trust through story-telling.
    Offering confrontation to challenge perceptions.
    Problem solving and action.
    Use attending skills and active listening:
    Listening
    Reflecting
    Paraphrasing
    Summarizing
    Open questioning
    Identifying basic human needs
    Immediacy
    Offering new perspectives
    Challenging/confronting
    Commitment to a tentative plan
    Brainstorming
    Problem solving
    Decision making
    Goal setting


    How To Establish a Peer Listening Program in Your School

    1. Get permission from your administration

    First, don't go rogue.  Get permission from your principal and show him/her its benefits. Many peer programs have been studied and found to be helpful in making an impact on school culture, academics, attendance, and the drop-out rate.
    See Education Week Article on the Benefits of Peer Led Programs
    ASCA Position on Peer Helping
    Broward Prevention-Peer Counseling
    Patrick Henry Middle School Peer Counseling Program

    2. Training

    Next, get training in peer programs. Don't just don't read a book, but find a reputable trainer.  I am a big believer in investing
    in the appropriate training so that I don't have to rely on someone else. 
    Look for a Trainer in Your Area

    3. Recruiting Students

    Third, recruit your students.  Creating an application is really helpful.  Here is one I created and continue to update.
    Salem High School Peer Helper Application

    4. Training Students

    Fourth, and very important, train your students! My students go through an intense 24 hour training and are exposed to skills like: active listening, conflict resolution skills, how to identify bullying, how to identify if someone is suicidal, how to make an appropriate referral, and the difference in an emergency, a crisis and a problem. Following their peer listening training, students must conduct and observe three peer listening before they can accept their first referral.

    5. Advertise your services!

    Last, advertise your program to your student body and staff. Investing in t-shirts is a great way to show off your group. Also,
    put referrals in teachers' boxes, online for students, in the counseling office, and the front office.

    What Types of Referrals are Appropriate for Peer Listeners? 

    Our referrals generally include issues in relationships, academics, conflict, family, and behavior. Sometimes my peer listeners are great at identifying bullying and some severe underlying issues that require a referral to a school professional.

    What Types of Skills Do Peer Listeners Acquire?


    Our peer listeners learn and practice the following skills:


    Attending Skills
    Non-Verbal Communication
    Active Listening
    Empathy

    Brainstorming
    Problem Solving
    Confrontation
    Use of silence
    When to break confidentiality

     How Many Stages Are in the Peer Listening Model?

    There are four stages that students must learn and practice:


    Stage 1-Getting to know each other and setting the guidelines. 


    In this stage, the student will introduce him/herself to the peer and
    discuss his/her role, the guidelines of the relationships, and limits of confidentiality.  Following this important information, the student will break the ice by asking the peer to tell about him or herself.

    Stage 2-Listening to the Story

    Encourage the peer to tell the reason for his or her referral. If 
    the peer is reluctant, continue to build a relationship to establish trust.  If the peer opens up about his or her issue, it is time to start using peer helping skills (like restating, paraphrasing, reflecting feelings, and empathizing).

    Stage 3-Brainstorming Options

    Allow the peer to brainstorm options for his or her problem.  

    Stage 4-Follow up

    It is important to make sure to support the peer and that he or she follows the action plan. If the student is not following the plan, review the plan.

    When Should a Peer Listener Refer?

    One should make a referral to a school professional if…

    1. If you feel uncomfortable.

    2. When you believe the person is not improving.

    3. Obvious negative changes in appearance or behavior.

    4. The person gets so emotional that he or she cannot communicate.

    5. The person talks about constant physical complaints.

    6. Substance Abuse.

    7. It seems the peer may be having a hallucination or hearing voices.

    8. Threats to self or others.

    9. Aggression and abuse.

    10. The situation gets unbearable.

    11. If you feel unsure, please refer!

    What are the Ethics a Peer Listener Should Follow?

    Here are our ethical code from my school.  I have both parents and students sign and I conduct an orientation.

    ·We honor confidentiality-whatever we say stays in this room EXCEPT if you or someone is going to harm yourself/themselves, someone else, or someone is harming you/them.
    ·We do not gossip or share information about each other, our helpees, or staff.
    ·We do not use put downs or offensive words, including shut up.
    ·We value and respect other people’s opinions and beliefs, even if we do not agree.
    ·We do not intentionally inflict emotional or physical distress on others.
    ·We confront and resolve our own issues and problems by using our conflict resolution skills.
    ·We do not interrupt others while they are talking or presenting.
    ·We follow all the rules of the school. 

    Need some help getting started?
         
    If you are thinking about incorporating a Peer Listener program, check out this link for my draft to my Peer Listener  Booklet (it is a work still in progress). Feel free to browse it and contact me if you need more information!!  







    Tuesday, February 10, 2015

    Association for Conflict Resolution: Dating Violence Awareness Chat

    Tuesday, February 10, 2015
    If you missed the Association for Conflict Resolution Chat hosted by Emily Lindin, founder of the UnSlut Project, and me, you missed an awesome chat!!  Lots of resources were shared and people from all over the world came together to share information regarding their experiences with dating violence.  Please feel free to check out the transcript of the chat from storify.

    About our sponsor:


    The Association for Conflict Resolution Education, Research, and Training Section supports ADR practitioners from pre K-12 to higher education settings; provides a forum for exchange of ideas from all fields of conflict resolution research, practical applications and new ideas; and facilitates design and presentation of cutting edge programs that enhance trainer and training system development.

    About our co-host:

    The UnSlut Project  promotes gender equality, sex positivity, and comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education for all ages. This is a collaborative space for sharing stories and creating awareness about sexual bullying, slut shaming, and related issues. It is up to each of us to evaluate and take responsibility for our own assumptions and interactions with others. Join us in spreading the word and changing our world.

    February #HSCCHAT: FAFSA Essentials



    The #HSCCHAT is a monthly Twitter Chat that targets issues, information, and resources for high school counselors. 

    Amber Shepherd-Thompson and I hosted the February #HSCCHAT focusing on the FAFSA.  
    You can view the discussion on Storify.


    Sunday, February 8, 2015

    F Stands for Free: Answering Difficult Student Questions About the FAFSA

    Sunday, February 8, 2015


    January 1st is not only the beginning of the new year, but the beginning of FAFSA season.  By now, your students and their parents should be emailing and calling you asking questions about this mysterious document that they have heard about, but don't quite understand.  In fact, I have to refresh my memory about this document so that I can answer my families' questions.  Fortunately, our county hosts a College Goal Sunday Event each year for our families.  If you are not familiar with College Goal Sunday, allow me to fill you in on this event. 

    The Sunday following the Super Bowl, our system invites college admission representatives, financial aid directors, tax preparers and Georgia Student Finance Commission representatives to assist our families in completing their FAFSA.  The event lasts for four hours and high school counselors are on hand to help with childcare, refreshments, answering parent questions, and directing families to the right resources.  Tomorrow I will be volunteering at our annual event and I thought I would take this opportunity to share some information about the FAFSA with you.  Also, you can join Amber Thompson and me on the next #HSCCHAT Twitter on Monday, Feb. 9th (8:30 EST) to learn more about FAFSA!

    As a high school counselor, it is pretty important that you are able to articulate information to students and parents about this important document.  Therefore, I want to share some of these questions with you so you can be prepared in advance and get your cool points with your administrators!   

    Give me a high five!!

    1. What is the FAFSA? 

    If you are a high school counselor, please practice this line...

    "The FAFSA, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is required to apply for  Federal grant, work-study and loan programs, which provide approximately $150 billion in college financial assistance every year. Most states and many schools require the FAFSA to award their grants, merit scholarships, and other types of assistance."



    It is so important that you are able to communicate the meaning and the importance of FAFSA to your parents and students.  I have included a short video you can share on your website or emails with your parents.

    Or, you can always share this cheesy video...

    Other resources for students and parents:

    College Week Live: Understanding Financial Aid and the FAFSA

    NACAC: Counseling Students About Student Financial Aid

    2. Can one submit FAFSA before filing taxes?

    Although colleges and universities urge students to file the FAFSA after it goes on online on January 1st, that is not always a reality.  My daughter will be a senior next year and intuitively I know that I will not have all my tax documents, itemized receipts, and statements in order until at least mid-February.  The problem with waiting to submit your FAFSA until taxes are completed is that many colleges have early deadlines.  Sue Allmon posted a great article in the "College Goal Sunday Blog" about this question.

    Tax Completion Question
    Since I have been a high school counselor, I have always advised parents that they need to get their taxes completed early to submit the FAFSA for their student; however, this is a misnomer.  Allmon states in the blog that it is perfectly okay to submit the FAFSA before parents file their taxes.  Parents can estimate their income information on the FAFSA form and indicate that they will be filing their taxes. Important note: parents must go back to the FAFSA form and update the filing status!

    3. Is there an income cut off?

    The short answer to this question is NO...there is not an income cutoff!! Financial aid is determined by many factors like: income, number of family members, age of parents, and others?

    Check this informative handout for more myths about FAFSA.

    FAFSA Myths

    4. How can a student determine his or her FAFSA parent?

    I get asked this question a lot by students.  Normally, I look at the student like I am caught in headlights, BUT no more!  I now have a handy guide called, Whose My FAFSA Parent? from College Up.  If a student is not sure who qualifies, he or she can take this informational quiz to
    identify the correct parent.



    5. What is a FAFSA PIN?

    The PIN is a personal identification number that allows a student and his or her parent to submit the FAFSA online. Without a PIN, a student and the parent cannot submit an electronic FAFSA and must download, sign, and mail a paper copy. 


    Apply for a PIN

    Important Tip: Students and parents need to write down their PIN and file it in a secure location!

    A new change that is coming this spring is that the FAFSA PIN will become obsolete and will be replaced by "FSA ID". The "FSA ID" will allow students and parents to access the different governmental loan websites by using one form of identification!

    6. How can errors be corrected on the FAFSA?

    As soon as the parent or student realizes an error has been made, they should go to the FAFSA site and correct the error as soon as possible.

    Quick Guide to Completing FAFSA Errors

    7. Who is considered an independent student?

    This is another question I am asked a lot by students who may not be living with their parents.  So, here is the criteria for you to share with your students.

    Under the federal definition, an independent student is someone who fits the following criteria:

  • Since the age of 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?

  • There is a section on the FAFSA where students can report if they are in foster care and a web link to additional benefits.  This is information is important to get out to our students.

    National Center for Homeless Youth
    Webinar About Homeless Youth and College
    McKinney Vento and College
    McKinney Vento and School Support
    Children of Incarcerated Parents

  • Are you, or were you an emancipated minor as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?

  • Are you, or were you in legal guardianship as determined by a court in your state of legal residence?

  • At any time on or after July 1, 2013, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?

  • At any time on or after July 1, 2013, did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?

  • At any time on or after July 1, 2013, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or were self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?


  • Great Video about Independent Students


    Dependent v. Independent

    Providing Effective Financial Aid Guidance to Homeless Youth



    Youth Poster on Homelessness

    8. Can students with undocumented parents submit a FAFSA?

    According to the "College Goal Sunday Blog", students of undocumented parents can file a FAFSA.  Here are some tips for entering parent information:
    Parents With No Social Security Number
    • When entering parent information for social security number, the parent should enter nine zeros. The parent should enter the zeros even if he or she has a federal taxpayer ID.
    • If the parent does not file a US tax return, he or she must provide income and other financial information.
    • Undocumented parents cannot apply for a PIN.  The student will complete his or her electronic signature with his or her PIN, but the parent must print, sign, and mail his or her signature page.
    • It is highly suggested to send the signature page via express mail instead of US Mail so that it can be processed in a timely manner.

    Increasing College Access and Success for Immigrants

    9. What if...

    I am a foster kid or ward of the state?  Student Aid Tips for Unique Student Populations

    I am an undocumented student? Student Aid Tips for Undocumented Students

    I have been in jail?  Aid for Incarcerated Students

    Victim of a war, terrorism, or a natural disaster?  Financial Aid For Those Affected by War, Terrorism, Natural Disasters

    10. What happens after a student submits his or her FAFSA?

    Students should look for their SAR report which gives information about their eligibility for financial aid.  Here is a quick video you can share.


    Students should also check with their college financial aid office to see if there is any documents that are missing or need to be completed.

    Things To Do After Filing FAFSA
    Calculated Family Income

    11.  Where can I get more help?

    Get FAFSA help for parents and students by referring them to a College Goal Sunday Event in your state.












    Also, you can get more information by viewing this FAFSA Webinar by Big Future.


    Additional Resources for Families: 

    Submitting the FAFSA--A Quick Guide for Students and Parents


    FAFSA Worksheet

    New FAFSA Updates

    7 Common FAFSA Mistakes

    State Deadlines for Financial Aid

    Federal Aid Counseling Handbook

    College Up

    College Goal Sunday USA

    FAFSA Blog

    Financial Aid Toolkit Resources

    Resources Specific for High School Counselors

    Hosting a Financial Aid Event

    Outreach on Social Media

    Student Aid Public Service Announcements

    Other Resources:

    Mapping Your Future

    Know How 2 Go

    My Future, My Way - resources for middle school students.