Monday, April 28, 2014

The Power of our Words

In first grade we are reviewing the power of our words.  This is a great theme to reinforce repetitively throughout the year, as it is so easy to fall back into our old ways.  With only a month of school left students are beginning to show the signs of exhaustion of a year of hard work, rising outdoor temperatures, adjusting to the closure of first grade, and the anticipation of summer break.  Patience levels seem to decrease as frustration levels increase, causing students to resort to their unhelpful ways of resolving conflict such as name-calling.

I began by reading Mr. Peabody's Apples written by Madonna.  We learn how our assumptions about others can turn into a hurtful experience if we aren't accurate with our words.  This is also a great story to illustrate the effect rumors have in a community.  We have to be careful with what we say because it is not so easy to take it back afterward.

We played the telephone game to see how easy it is for rumors and gossip that is untrue to be spread.  Then we watched Kid President's hilarious video on words we should say more often:

(We had to watch more than once, they loved it and couldn't stop laughing!!!)

I explained that it's important for us to THINK before we speak, and hung this poster in their classroom to refer to:

Piggy-backing off of Kid President's challenge, I had students think about how they could be more kind in their words.  "If you can't think of anything nice to say, you aren't thinking hard enough," says Kid President.  Then I asked them to think about something nice they could say to someone who usually pushes their buttons.  Find something specific to compliment that student with, something that would brighten their day.  They wrote this in the speech bubble and then drew a picture of themselves saying it.  Their challenge is to actually do what they illustrated on their paper by the end of the week.

 (these two were referring to me, I can assure

Summer Reading Camp

Check out our own PE coach in a local YMCA commercial, Coach Huff!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Start College with Free Minds

Start College with Free Minds

Hi there, Parents and Guardians of Lee students—

If you’ve been thinking about returning to school, either to pursue a degree or to explore your intellectual potential, here’s a chance for you to do that for free! Free Minds offers a two-semester college course in humanities for adults who want to begin a new chapter in their lives. Applications are available now and are due July 7. 

Free Minds offers a supportive environment for nontraditional students. Classes are held in the evenings in Central Austin, beginning in August and ending in May. Tuition, books, and support services are provided free of charge, and child care is available. Faculty from UT and ACC lead classes in literature, philosophy, history, and writing. Students who complete the course earn six credit hours from ACC.

Many Free Minds students are parents who aim to model the importance of higher education for their children; a sizable portion of Free Minds students have gone on to pursue degrees at schools, including ACC, Concordia, and St. Edward’s. If you think you’re ready to make a fresh start in the classroom, please consider applying.

You are eligible if you:

1.    Are at least 18 years old
2.    Have a high school diploma or GED
3.    Don’t have a college degree and haven’t been enrolled in a degree program in the past two years
4.    Have demonstrated financial need (income no more than $23,340, if living alone, or $47,700 if living in a family of four)
5.    Possess the ability to read challenging books in English
6.    Ready to commit to attending class regularly and complete all assignments

For more information or to download an application, visit the Free Minds website at, write to us at or call 512-610-7961.

"This intellectual awakening has changed how I view myself, my place in the community and in the world. It is especially exciting to be able to share this new view with my children." Abbie Navarrete, Free Minds graduate 2007, ACC graduate 2010

Monday, April 21, 2014

Helping Students Cope with Test Anxiety

April is a busy month for school counselors!  Along with the responsibilities of being our testing coordinator, our students feel the pressure from their teachers and their parents to perform their best on our state assessments.  Juggling my time to meet with every student that is feeling worried becomes a daily challenge during the weeks leading up to testing.

When I was a third grade teacher I borrowed a meaningful idea from one of my teammates, Angie Zapata.  About a week before testing I sent home a secret request for parents to write their child an inspiring, positive, and encouraging letter.  They sent it back to me without sharing with their child what it was.  (For those students who I did not receive one, I wrote one for them)  On the morning of our first test, I passed out a letter to each student to open and watched their faces light up with confidence.  Taking from this idea, I expanded it to a more global idea that built upon our community here at Lee.

The last time I visited second grade I read them one of their favorites, Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt.  Throughout the story we learn how our main character is afraid to attempt anything he is unfamiliar with - "the unknown".  I expand this idea by informing students that we have a group of "scaredy squirrels" right here at Lee!  Our third graders are also afraid of "the unknown" - aka the STAAR test.  Although they are fully prepared and ready to do their best, they have never taken it before and it makes them a little afraid.

In order to ease these worries, I asked each second grader to write a letter to a third grader.  Each letter contains the 5 parts of a letter (which I review), a statement showing empathy, and a statement showing encouragement.  I passed out the fun bordered paper and off they went.  I was blown away by the sincerity in each of their letters!

Now it was time to deliver the goodies!  The week before the third graders took their test, I visited each third grade classroom during my normal guidance time.  I began by reading Hooray for Diffendoofer Day! written by Dr. Seuss with help from Lane Smith & Jack Prelutsky.  This book is a great springboard for discussing our feelings about testing.  In the story students are confronted with a test that they have 10 minutes to prepare for and if they don't pass it their school will close down!  Detailed with Seussical rhymes and illustrations, kids realize how silly the rumors are about testing.  We discuss rumors that they've heard and I clarify any discrepancies they might believe (If I don't pass I won't go to 4th grade, etc).

Afterward I pass out STAAR Tip Bookmarks to each of them and go through what each tip mean.  Going to bed a little earlier than usual will help because it might take you a little longer to fall asleep if you're worried about the test.  Eating a protein-filled, hearty breakfast will give you energy to keep going during the 4 hours.  I will provide you with sharpened pencils, your teachers will provide you with snacks, but you can also bring your own special snack or sweater to feel more comfortable.

Finally, it was time to pass out their special letters, and boy were they surprised!  Many of them were excited to find their second grade buddy to tell them a big thank you.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sneaky Weasel

In first grade we read Sneaky Weasel by Hannah Shaw.  Throughout the story, Weasel learns that no one wants to come to his party because of his mischievous ways.  His friends have been hurt over and over by his poor choices and no longer want to be a part of their friendship.

Throughout the story, each time we came across a mean act from Weasel, we crumpled a large paper heart.  I explained that when people do things that hurt us, it creates a small wrinkle in our heart.  Page by page our wrinkles became more and more prevalent to the point where the heart was unrecognizable.  Once Weasel began to change his behavior and starts making things better with his friends, we started smoothing out the wrinkles on our large heart.  However, even when smoothed, there is still a scar left.  The heart will never go back to being the same as it was in the beginning.  This is what often happens with friendships, we have to learn to forgive even though our heart may not always forget the pain.

We brainstormed ways to heal our hearts when someone has been unkind to us and we wrote them on band-aids that we attached to our wrinkled hearts.  Ideas included: say you're sorry, right your wrong, ask if they're okay, invite them to play, take a break, etc.  Students were given their own hearts to cut out, wrinkle, smooth out, and attach band-aid stickers with ways we'd like others to help us heal when we've been hurt.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Positive Spin on Bossy by Amy Arndt

A parent of one of our fifth grade students wrote an excellent article on the Huffington Post that details the stress our young students go through when applying to middle schools.  I agree with her opinion that this is a lot of pressure to put on our fifth graders and it makes me wonder how I, as their school counselor, can help alleviate this unnecessary stress while also supporting our students and their goals for the future.  

A Positive Spin on Bossy
Written by Amy Arndt

"Earlier this semester, my fifth grade daughter started deciding what to do about middle school. Her elementary school offers an optional sixth grade year, a gentle, loving cocoon that my husband and I found extremely appealing, mainly because we love the school and the teachers, but also because it felt safe and familiar. For kids ready to leave elementary school behind, they have the option of attending the appropriate feeder. For kids looking for a more challenging academic experience, they can apply to a magnet or fine arts program. These are competitive programs that require academic excellence, teacher recommendations, entrance tests and essays.

If you ask me, this is a lot to put on a 10-year-old. When I was going into sixth grade, my biggest concern was which fluorescent earrings looked best with my pinstriped jeans and if my friend Courtney would be willing to wear her matching fluorescent earrings on the same day.

Never one to take the easy route, our daughter boldly announced that she wanted to apply for all four of the magnet/fine arts programs. I supported the decision, but also informed my daughter that I was not filling out a single application. If she wanted to apply, this was her gig. Together, we created a project schedule on a poster board to log each school's deadlines. My husband and I agreed to cart our daughter where she needed to go, and to help her work through her essay topics, but we both agreed that this was her journey.

One evening, while typing one of the entry essays, my 10-year old looked up and said, "What's that word that's a positive spin on bossy?"

Before I had a chance to answer, she said, "Leadership. That's it. Leadership skills!"

I had an immediate flashback to kindergarten at the parent-teacher conference. The teacher already knew us because she'd taught my stepchildren, so she knew she could be straight with us.

"She's doing a great job," she began, "She's a big helper."

Uh-oh. I'd heard that line before. Our daughter was a "big helper" in pre-k as well.

"Sometimes," she went on, "I have to take her outside, point to the sign above my door, and ask, 'Who's name is that?' And she will read my name, and I'll say, 'That's right. That's my name, and I'm the teacher. If I need your help, I'll let you know.'"

With that, my husband died laughing. From that point on, every teacher conference began with the story of how our daughter needed to be reminded that she wasn't the teacher. This made for a funny story, but it also gave me pause.

Was calling our daughter "a big helper" just steps away from calling her bossy?

Lately, thanks to Sheryl Sandberg's and the Girl Scouts collaboration, Ban Bossy, the word "bossy" is a bad, bad word. According to Ban Bossy, by middle school, girls are less likely to take leadership roles, and that unfortunate trend continues into adulthood. We're asked to pledge not to use the word "bossy" at all, and I'm fully on board with that, even where boys are concerned. Who wants to be called bossy anyway? But call our girls and boys leaders? Sounds like a great idea to me.

Luckily for us, our daughter's kindergarten teacher (and, for that matter, every teacher she had from that moment on) supported our daughter being "a big helper." They encouraged her to help, and as a result, she was able to channel her need to help in the right direction. Because of a positive spin on bossy, my daughter had the confidence, at 10, to decide on her own that she was ready to apply for an academically-challenging school program. At 10, my daughter knew that there was something negative about the word "bossy," but she understood that a simple word choice could turn bossy into something powerful.

I give a large portion of the credit to our underpaid, overworked school teachers for preparing our daughter for middle school. So much of who our daughter has become is due to the hardworking, compassionate teachers who cared about our daughter's personal development as well as her academic success. Sure, our education system is flawed, standardized tests are the pits and we have work to do to educate all children on an acceptable level, but the teachers who commit their professional lives to our children deserve our praise.

On the afternoon that a stack of important mail arrived, my daughter cautiously opened the envelopes while I nervously documented it all on video. Each time she opened a letter, her face lit up.

Afterwards, she promptly went outside on the front porch, closed the door and screamed at the top of her lungs while my husband and stepson and I gave each other high-fives. When she came back inside, I could already see the change. She's ready to take middle school by storm, and you can bet she'll be a leader when she gets there."

Original post:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Social Story: Lee Olympics

Younger students that are new to our school often feel unsure about school wide events that disrupt their normal schedule.  Lee Olympics is one of these days.  It is a fun, active day where you'll see students smiling from ear to ear and encouraging each other with their best sportsmanship.  But to a newcomer, it can be a bit intimidating surrounded by 400 students, parents, and teachers.  To help ease these nerves, I created a social story based on my second grader's schedule for each of my little worriers to keep and read over and over before the day of our Olympics began.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Bad Case of Stripes

David Shannon's A Bad Case of Stripes is such an entertaining book to illustrate to students how important it is to be yourself.  We met Camilla Cream who LOVES lima beans but is afraid that others will make fun of her for it.  She hides this part of herself and as a result far worse things begin to happen to her.  The pages are filled with hilarious illustrations of her transformation that keep students hooked while reinforcing an important theme.

After we read and discussed the story, students water-colored what they thought might happen to them if they didn't show others who they really are.  I printed out their faces, ahead of time, onto thicker construction paper in black & white so they could add the details they wanted to their skin with paint.