Nordonia Middle School counselors recognized by state organization

April Helms
Kent Weeklies
Theresa Bonick, left, and Rachel Vitale, the school counselors at Nordonia Middle School, removed their masks for a brief time to have this photo taken. The photo was snapped while they were at bus duty. Vitale said they "greet our students as they enter the building."

NORTHFIELD CENTER – The field of school counseling has changed a good deal over the past couple of decades.

“In the past, at least when I was in school, a school counselor was someone that you saw once a year to get your schedule for the following school year,” said Rachel Vitale, who is the school counselor for Nordonia Hills Middle School’s seventh graders. “If you were a student who struggled, you may remember going to the school counselor for a talk about your poor grades. Many times, there was a stigma attached to being called down to the ‘guidance office.’”

Now, schools know that sometimes students “need so much more than help with making a schedule for next year or a lecture about grades,” Vitale said.

“We as school counselors learned that our time is better spent teaching students coping skills, mindfulness, study strategies, and helping them explore the results of a career assessment,” she said. “School counselors understand that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. We realize that there are students who are doing well in their classes, but can do better. We see that there are kids who would benefit from learning conflict resolution skills, even if they haven’t been in trouble for fighting. We understand that having a student take a career assessment means absolutely nothing if we do not follow that up with a discussion about their interests and goals. So, school counseling evolved, and with it, so has our title. We are no longer ‘guidance counselors,’  but school counselors.”

The counselors at Nordonia Middle School, which include Vitale and Theresa Bonick, the eighth-grade school counselor, were recently awarded an OSCAR by the Ohio School Counselor Association - not an Academy Award, but the Ohio School Counselor Accountability Report.

Bryan Seward, principal at Nordonia Middle School, said the middle school staff petitioned the school board for a full-time school counselor for both seventh and eighth grade.

“This was in response to a growing need to respond to the social emotional needs of our students, as well as the increasing demands of academic counseling,” Seward said. “At the time, and for years previous, we were staffed with one full-time school counselor and one school counselor splitting time between the middle school and Lee Eaton Elementary.  This meant that our ability to respond to student needs had to be approached from a reactive standpoint because there just was not enough to go around.  The board was very supportive of the need, and we were able to bring Dr. Vitale aboard.”

A need brought up during the interview process was creating a counseling program that was more proactive manner, Seward said. 

“Mrs. Bonick and Dr. Vitale hit the ground running, starting with the structures that we had in place and rebuilding those structures and continuing to develop programming that responded to the challenges of middle school students,” he said. “A primary focus was the use of data to drive that programming and decision making, and that is where the OSCAR Award comes into play.  We knew that there was a growing need among students, especially in the area of social emotional needs.  Dr. Clark and the board of education recognized and met that need, and as a principal, I couldn't be more proud of what Rachel and Theresa have been able to accomplish in a short amount of time.”

The pandemic has increased the “the social emotional needs of our students,” Seward said.

“Our counselors have been able to meet that head on,” Seward said. “All of our counselors in Nordonia, and I'm sure everywhere, are dedicated to meeting our students' needs, and are working tirelessly to do so.  Our students, our school, and our community are lucky to have them all.”

Vitale said that the OSCAR Award “is both an award and a presentation.”

“The award is administered after a school counselor or school counseling team provides a concise presentation of the highlights of their school counseling program including the data to support the work of the counselors,” Vitale said.

It took Vitale and Bonick a school year “to gather the data to apply for the OSCAR.”

“In order to write the report, we had to plan out our school counseling program a year in advance, and make sure that we effectively evaluated each activity that we did with students,” Vitale said. “The report is due about a month before the end of the school year, so the result is that the OSCAR is a summary of the main highlights of a school years’ worth of work.”

Vitale said the middle school begins the school year “by giving students, parents, and school staff a needs assessment.”

“After reviewing those results, we base all of our school counseling lessons on what our school community needs, rather than using the same lesson each year, year after year, because it is easier,” Vitale said. “We make sure that we create lessons on topics that fall under the three components of a school counseling program; these include personal and social, academic and career. The American School Counselor Association has standards that fall under each of the three components of a school counseling program. The OSCAR allows school counselors to collect data on each of the components of their school counseling program and allows a space for the ASCA standards that have been met.”

In addition, the OSCAR “allows school counselors to show before and after data,” Vitale said.

“It shows how students have positively changed as a result of our work with them,” Vitale said. “The data also allows us to see where we might need to focus additional services like skills groups for kids who might need a bit of extra support.”

The more proactive structure put in place has been beneficial with the pandemic, Vitale said.

“The past year and a half has been a time of growth and evaluation,” she said. “With the challenges placed on us with the pandemic and shutdown, we had to re-conceptualize how we addressed the needs of all our students. Now, more than ever, every student needs to have healthy coping skills and an outlet for their feelings.”

Vitale said these needs are met through virtual lessons through the Google Classrooms, and creating digital spaces where students can find resources “to support their wellness.” They also work to find “new ways to safely meet with students, and continuing to get into the classroom to provide students with quality educational materials so that they can be well and stay well.”

In the immediate future, Vitale said she expects “that we will see the effects of the pandemic and shutdown on students for the next several years.”

“They will benefit from extra support in personal, social and academic areas,” she said. “Most importantly, we will support the needs of our students.”

Vitale said that the net goal in the next three to five years is strengthening the counseling program, “with the goal of having the American School Counseling Association designate our school counseling program as a Recognized ASCA Model Program, or RAMP school.”

“The OSCAR is a first step in applying for that award,” she said.

Reporter April Helms can be reached at ahelms@thebeaconjournal.com