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Notes from Our PA School Counselor and School Psychologist of the Year

February 11, 2022 12:00 AM
By: Dr. Nikole Hollins-Sims

Sponsored by the American School Counselor Association, National School Counseling Week is celebrated during the first full week in February each year. Mental health professionals like school counselors and school psychologists are important year-round, but National School Counseling Week gives the opportunity to focus public attention on the unique contributions these professionals provide in our schools.

This year's theme is School Counseling: Better Together, and we truly can't think of a better theme than that! 

Each year, Pennsylvania names a PA School Counselor of the Year and a PA School Psychologist of the Year. This year, in honor of National School Counseling Week, we wanted to provide a sounding board to PA's School Counselor of the Year Matthew Shervington and PA's School Psychologist of the Year Dr. Nikole Hollins-Sims. 

From Matthew Shervington, PA School Counselor of the Year:

"School counselors assist students academically, with their social emotional development, and with planning for their post-secondary goals. Counselors are uniquely positioned in that their roles require great knowledge, understanding, and competence in all three of these domains at equal levels. Counselors must provide academic interventions such as study skills or teach habits for success to students falling short in achievement, address inter- and intrapersonal concerns occurring at school, home, or the community as they permeate into school, and help students understand the changing dynamics of our world and what this may mean for their future potential careers, some of which may not yet even exist. Moreover, counselors will find themselves doing these things in so many differing capacities – such as individual meetings, team meetings, group counseling, teacher consultations, outside referrals, classroom lessons, data tracking, screenings & assessments, extracurricular supervision, parent consultations & meetings, risk assessments, and more - each and every day. They truly are a jack of all trades wearing and balancing many hats.
With everything that school counselors are called upon to do, a lot of parties only get to see some of these responsibilities that directly tie to them. For that reason, I think awards like School Counselor of the Year – whether at the district, county, or state level – is such a wonderful thing and a great honor. Student grades and test scores are easily quantifiable, as are attendance rates, behavioral outcomes, and graduation rates. However, the counselor's role in working with students individually and in cohorts – and both directly and indirectly – regardless of race, gender, orientation, socioeconomic status, attitude towards learning, etc., undoubtedly plays a role in these measures of success. Because of this, an award such as School Counselor of the Year can feel like an acknowledgement of the importance and sometimes seemingly anonymous nature of the role."

Dr. Nikole Hollins-Sims, PA School Psychologist of the Year:

"Today's schools are experiencing a new way of engaging in learning. COVID-19 and current societal shifts have created a need for a new way of understanding education. In particular, the focus on mental wellness and the health of educational systems, in general, through academics, behavior and social-emotional learning, are pivotal for learner success. Important roles in schools to support these efforts are school counselors and school psychologists. 

As the 2021 Pennsylvania School Psychologist of the Year, I am honored to have served in school districts who saw the value in the role. 

School psychologists provide direct support and interventions to students; consult with teachers, families, and other school-employed mental health professionals (i.e., school counselors, school social workers) to improve support strategies; work with school administrators to improve school-wide practices and policies; and collaborate with community providers to coordinate needed services (National Association of School Psychologists, 2014).

Beginning my graduate school journey at Millersville University, I was provided opportunities to understand the importance of school psychology to a school system. We were exposed to assessment practices, appropriate intervention selection, and the value of consultation. My first role as a certified school psychologist began in the Harrisburg School District in 2005. Initially, I was expected to complete evaluations of students who may be eligible for special education services and/or gifted services. Soon, I realized that there were other skill sets as a school psychologist that I needed to explore and seek out opportunities to perform them. Thanks to leaders in the district, I was allowed to serve as an internal coach for positive behavior interventions and supports (PBIS) at my assigned school building. This expanded role served as a catalyst to me becoming an educational consultant and led me to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. This career journey has showcased that school psychologists have a wealth of skills that when coupled with the partnership of other valued service professionals, such as school counselors, there is a powerhouse team that can help transform the climate of a school." 

School counselors and school psychologists play important roles in our schools, lives, and futures. All the ways they provide support and help our students may not be obvious all the time, but it's no secret that our schools wouldn't be what they are without these important professionals. Thank you, school counselors and school psychologists!

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