Posts Tagged 'Sabrina Bong'

Five tips to get you (and your school!) through the Badger Exam

recording_badgerBy Sabrina Bong – If you are in the field of education, you’ve probably become very acquainted with the term “Badger Exam.”

Right now, that is all my middle school, and surrounding middle schools, are talking about: how the test is going, how we as teachers and counselors can prepare for it, and how we can prepare our students for it. There was actually an email chain among several of the middle school counselors in the area, asking about the possibility of technology glitches and how to overcome them.

Secretly, a part of me is glad that we have moved away from the thick WKCE booklets, which were not only exhausting to count, alphabetize, and label, but also brought back nightmares from my own testing days. To this day, whenever someone mentions the WKCE or the Iowa Basics, I have a flashback to filling in bubble after bubble on a never ending Scantron sheet.

Regardless of whether it is the Badger Exam, Iowa Basics, or another form of standardized testing, I think we can all agree that testing is tedious for everyone involved. Students are stressed about doing well. Teachers are stressed because the anxiety level in their classroom is heightened. Parents are stressed because their students are panicking about the test. And, as a counselor, I am stressed for my students. Recently, my office has become a flocking ground for students who are burnt out from testing, exhausted, or nervous about how this exam will impact the rest of their lives.

Is there a way to cope with all this anxiety? Based on what some of my friends and I have tried at various schools, here are five ways to help your school survive testing season!

  1. Remind your students to R-E-L-A-X. My students know that I am a big fan of Aaron Rodgers, so they either roll their eyes or laugh whenever I quote his infamous saying. Here is the thing I always tell my kids: This is one test. Yes, it is a very important test, but it is also one brief snapshot of your intelligence. Thinking of the Badger Exam as this “end all, be all” test will only cause anxiety to heighten, which may lead to poor test performance. Tell your students to take a deep breath, count to ten, and remember they are very capable of doing well.
  1. Be patient with everyone. There is a funny sign that I saw on Pinterest that said “I’m sorry for the things I said when I was hungry.” I believe this sign could be appropriately switched to “I’m sorry for the things I said when I was testing.” With all the anxiety running rampant through the school because of testing, people’s emotions are heightened. Students may be taking their nervousness and stress out on their peers, parents, teachers, and possibly even you! (I have had more students yell at me these past few weeks than I have in two years.) My best advice? Remember that this too shall pass. Roll with the punches and offer a sympathetic ear to anyone who needs to vent. And try not to take it personally; most likely, everything will return to “normal” post-testing.
  1. Be prepared. No matter how hard you try, it is very possible that someone will have a meltdown in the middle of testing. Whether it’s the student you see every day, or the student who you see once in a blue moon, things may fall apart the minute they start testing. I always have granola bars in my office for my students who get hungry (and cranky), as well as any number of stress balls for students to use to calm down. While I can’t necessarily pull them from testing, they definitely help when students leave the classroom and come marching to me!
  1. Have rewards for your students. One year, I brought Smarties in for my “smarties.” The students loved the treat and thought it was really cool that I remembered (and acknowledged) that they were testing. Sometimes, they need a sweet treat at the end of the test to let them know that they made it through.
  1. Have rewards for your teachers. They are in the front lines, dealing with technology glitches, cranky kids, and tests that just don’t want to work, and somehow, they still have smiles on their faces at the end of the day. It doesn’t have to be something big; one of my friends gave each of her teachers a water bottle with a granola bar and a mini pack of M&M’s attached to it, with a note that said, “Here is a little energy boost to get you through testing. You can do it!” The teachers will appreciate that you acknowledged their hard work!

4 Great Books for Middle School Counselors

Flashlight-ReadingBy Sabrina Bong — When I think back to my childhood, one memory stands out clearer than the others: me sneaking a book to bed and reading by flashlight.

My love for reading only increased as I got older; I would check out five or six books a week from the library and devour them in a few days. In high school, I was known for carrying a book with me for when I finished my homework. And now that I’m an adult, I am on the hunt for enough bookcases to fit my extensive collection of books (clearly, I just need a library in my apartment …)

When I am not enjoying Jane Austen or James Patterson, I am reading books to help develop my practice as a school counselor. These books are based on practices my district is emphasizing, and what happens to strike my interest.

If you are looking for an interesting read, take a look at these!

  1. Mindfulness: An eight week plan for finding peace in a frantic world (Mark Williams and Danny Penman.) I actually received this book when I took a class on mindfulness this past summer. This book provided some fascinating insight into how mindfulness can be beneficial in life, and also easy, simple steps to help you become more mindful in your daily activities. I found that by following some of their suggestions, I became less stressed, more organized, and was able to live in the moment. West Allis-West Milwaukee began an initiative to introduce mindfulness into their schools this past year, which will help students become better problem solvers and more able to regulate emotions and stress.
  2. Fires in the Middle School Bathroom (Kathleen Cushman and Laura Rogers). This book has such a bizarre name, but I couldn’t resist picking it up when I saw it at Barnes and Noble. Thankfully, this book has nothing to do with fire, or middle school arsonists. It talks about the challenges of middle school and offers thoughts and advice from middle school students. For me, one of the best pieces of advice from the book came from a student interview. The student said something to the effect of, “In middle school, we want to be treated like independent adults, but also want people to still see us as kids.” It really affected how I treat my students. I give them options so they can make choices like grown adults, but give enough guidance so they aren’t in the decision making process alone. When in the classroom, I make sure to mix “adult” talk with “kid-friendly” activities.
  3. Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others (Shane J. Lopez, PhD). West Allis-West Milwaukee is also beginning to introduce hope into the schools this year. It has been found that students who have hope are more successful in school, are usually happier, and are more able to overcome obstacles in their life. This book provides anecdotes, as well as thorough research about the benefits of having hope and how it can transform your life.
  4. The Drama Years: Real Girls Talk About Surviving Middle School – Bullies, Brands, Body Image, and More (Haley Kilpatrick with Whitney Joiner). Who can forget their years in middle school? When I think back to mine, they were surrounded by drama – who was friends with who, who was “popular” and who was not, and the all-important who has a crush on who. The Drama Years discusses middle school drama from a middle school perspective. Kilpatrick weaves her own tales from middle school with anecdotes and advice from middle school girls who want to explain why the drama occurs. I think this is a great read for anyone with a girl, since drama can be an integral part of life, regardless of age!

Counseling “App-y Hour”: Apps for the Modern School Counselor

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By Sabrina (Bong) Bartels — If you have an iPad like me, it probably travels with you everywhere: classrooms, your office, the lunch room. In order to help make your iPad as helpful to you as possible, here are five (free!) apps that have definitely made my counseling life easier:

  1. My Game Plan. One of my fellow counselors actually recommended this app to me, and it has come in handy. We all know the worry that consumes us when we have a student who admits that they are thinking of suicide. My Game Plan was primarily designed for the iPhone, but the app will work on iPads as well. There is a section for a Safety Plan, where students can write down their warning signs, coping strategies, people they can contact if they are feeling sad, and an automatic link to Lifeline, which is a suicide prevention hotline. Students can also track appointments under this app. Finally, the resources tab has a crisis center locator, as well as links to Facebook and Twitter accounts devoted to Lifeline and suicide prevention. It is a free app, but you can only find it in the app store by choosing “iPhone only.” Like I said, it will work on iPads.
  1. Evernote. This app has made my note-taking process much smoother and easier to read! I created a new “notebook” for each student, and then took notes in it. It automatically dates and times your entries, which makes it nice for when you have to jot something down really fast! I also “stack” my notebooks, so that all my students who have last names from A to D are all together, E through H are together, etc. The downside is that you are only able to create 250 notebooks using the free app, so that is a challenge if you have more than 250 students. I would recommend using Evernote for those students you see frequently, so you can ensure that the students who need the “notebook” have it (that was my mistake.)
  1. ClassDojo. In addition to being a counselor to over 360 kids, I teach a class on careers to 7th graders. In order to help keep my class efficient, I use ClassDojo. It is an app that specifically focuses on behavior. I am able to give my students “points” for good behavior, which you can customize (for my class, my six “good” behaviors are helping others, being on task, participating, working hard, teamwork, and using electronics appropriately.) You can also take away points for negative behavior, like being off task or bullying. I also use it for specific students who are on a behavior plan, since it tracks all of the data. One thing I would say: this app is designed for more elementary school age children; though some of my 7th graders find it cute, others think they have outgrown the cartoonish avatars.
  1. iJournal or Notability. In my school, we have a 1 to 1 ratio with iPads, meaning that every single one of my students has one. For my students who are “frequent flyers,” I also have them download iJournal to their iPads. It helps them track down their thoughts. While iJournal is a little more structured, Notability allows students to write using their fingers, doodle pictures, and upload photos. It really depends on what your student needs!
  1. I-Qi. Mindfulness is becoming a HUGE topic right now in the school counseling field. This past summer, I took a class on it, and it was a phenomenal experience. Whether you are doing mindfulness or not, i-Qi is a great timer to have for your classroom. You can choose a time limit, and the timer will show not only a numeric countdown, but a picture of a circle slowly fading away. When the timer ends, you hear a beautiful chime instead of a buzzing sound. My students find it super relaxing, and I’m sure yours will too! You can also just play chimes to focus your students if you are doing a lesson on mindfulness.

What Makes “THAT Child” Behave That Way?

Funny young school student balancing a pencil on his noseBy Sabrina Bong — As I was scrolling through Facebook recently, I stumbled across a website that one of my friends had shared.

The website was a blog from a teacher out in Canada, but her message rings true throughout every country. It was so inspiring that I immediately knew that it was something I had to share with everyone here. Even though I am not a teacher, the feelings are the same for me as a counselor.

In this open letter from Amy Murray, she writes about “THAT child.” I’m sure all of us in the education field thought of someone right when they read that statement. We all have a student (or more than a few students) that may require a little extra love and attention, someone who may simultaneously grate on our nerves and melt our hearts. They may also be the student who causes chaos in every single classroom he or she touches.

But Amy begs people – particularly parents – not to make snap decisions about “THAT child.” She asks them to show patience and realize that she cannot share everything about “THAT child” with them, even though it may answer a lot of questions. She mentions that sometimes, “THAT child” is being abused, that he may be hungry and cranky because of allergy tests, or that she may be looking for attention because she is living with grandma (who may be a potential alcoholic.) She reminds each of us that these children are all people, people who are struggling with a unique situation in life.

The reason it touched me is because I have a student that everyone calls “THAT child.” He isn’t liked too much by teachers because he is constantly having meltdowns in class, which consist of swearing, crying, and the occasional tantrum. I can’t necessarily tell all of these teachers what I know about his family situation. I can’t tell them about his home life. I can tell them that he once told me I was the only person he trusts, but I can’t tell the teachers what other adults have done to violate his trust. And it kills me a little bit inside; it really does. I want everyone to love this kid as much as I do, but many only see the problems he creates in class.

I would like to do what Amy Murray did. I would like to beg for people – parents, teachers, and students alike – to stop and think before making judgments about other students. While students may do bad things, I truly believe that no student is inherently “bad.” All of us at one time or another have made mistakes. Please realize that some of my students are using the only coping strategies they have ever been taught at home. I am trying so hard to help, but it is hard to change 12 or 13 years of habit.

And I beg all educators to love their students, each and every one of them, but to especially show a little love towards “THAT child.” After all, I’m sure we were all “THAT child” at one point in our lives.

To read the letter from Amy Murray, please click here.

Providing Parenting Advice … Even When You’re Not a Parent

MjAxMi0wYzU2Y2EwNzQzNTM2NWJjBy Sabrina Bong — About a year ago, my fiance and I volunteered to babysit his sister’s children overnight.

The girls, who were five and one at the time, were super excited that they got to spend one-on-one time with Rob and I. The oldest one was so eager to have us over that she almost shoved her parents out the door in her excitement! It was a little rough at first (if you have never cooked before with a one year old holding onto your leg and a five year old who is trying to help, but really is making an enormous mess, it’s quite an experience!) but we managed to get both girls fed, bathed, and in bed at a reasonable hour. Once the oldest one was finally asleep, Rob and I collapsed on the sofa before saying to each other, “That was an experience!”

As Rob and I prepare for our wedding (in 10 days!), we have talked about having kids in the future. Though we are not ready anytime soon, we have occasionally discussed what will happen when we become parents. Our conversations have ranged from how we will juggle soccer and karate practices, to how we want to discipline our children. But the majority of our talks revolve around how we want to raise our children. We have talked about taking the best of how our parents raised us, and then blend it with some of our own ideas.

Beyond all of these discussions, and the night we watched the girls, I have not really thought too much about being a parent and parenting advice. However, this recently changed when one of my students fell on some hard times.

This student of mine is a very sweet, very kind young girl. She has been dealt a lot of hard cards in life: she was homeless last year, and is currently living with a relative. She recently started stealing things from her parents, as well as outside organizations. Her parents are unsure what to do, and turned to our principal for help. She, in turn, suggested that the parents come in to meet with me and the head counselor in my building to discuss parenting strategies.

When she first suggested this, I was baffled. What advice on parenting could I offer, when my “parenting” experience is pretty much nonexistent?

When I brought this up, the head counselor reminded me that I gave a lot of advice to boys, even though I was never a teenage boy. He then told me that even though I didn’t have experience parenting, that I knew enough to help guide these parents into how they could talk to their child about her stealing and lying behaviors.

Our first session with the parents went pretty well. To be honest, I was pretty quiet; I was struggling with how best to phrase my suggestions. For example, when the mother asked if it was appropriate to take her daughter to a juvenile detention facility to show what her life could end up like, the head counselor gently, but firmly, vetoed that idea. But the way he did it was fantastic; he was completely honest, but did not make the parent feel defensive. I am not exactly sure how he managed to do this, but it is a technique that I am working hard to learn.

So far, this has been a very eye-opening experience. I have learned that I can provide valuable advice, even if I do not have first-hand expertise in an area. I have also learned that it is okay to respectfully disagree with parents. I am sure that all of the things I am learning now will be incredibly helpful … not only with the parents I work with, but for my possible future as a parent!

Newsworthy Notables: Students Weigh in on Slenderman Sacrifice

Estabrook_Woods,_Concord_MABy Sabrina Bong — As a counselor, several things have scared me: having a girl who had just tried to overdose on pills come and tell me to call the hospital; hearing one of my students talk about the abuse going on in his family; and having a parent yell at me for the first time.

But truly, nothing compares to the fear I experienced when I first heard about the Slenderman case.

If you are not familiar with this case, let me explain: two middle school girls took a classmate of theirs out to the woods. Once there, the two girls stabbed the third several times and left her to die. The girl managed to crawl onto a bike trail, where someone found her and rushed her to the hospital. When the police asked the girls why they had stabbed the third, they explained that she was supposed to be a sacrifice to this fictitious character named Slenderman. They had hoped that, by sacrificing this girl, they would be able to join Slenderman’s followers.

My first reaction to hearing about this story was absolute shock. What could have compelled these girls to believe that A. Slenderman was real, and B. That stabbing their classmate was even an option? As these questions began to sink in, I realized I also felt horror. These girls were the same age as my students. This could have been any of them.

Though our school has not formerly addressed the Slenderman case, I have discussed it briefly with some of my students. One of the small groups I run thought it was something worth talking about during lunch. One of the boys began by explaining what Slenderman was: a character created by someone on a website. He explained that this person had written horror stories and drawn pictures of what Slenderman looked like and did. He described it all as a “cult-like following,” saying that hundreds of people were logging in and commenting on the stories. He said people also were submitting their own drawings and pictures of Slenderman.

This led to a discussion between all four of the boys: What would cause someone to believe in this character? As one of the boys jokingly described it, “It’s like Ms. Bong telling everyone that she’s engaged to the quarterback of the Packers!” And they came up with many ideas as to why this occurred: Some people just have different ideas of what is real and what isn’t; the girls were convinced he was real because of older siblings; they were lonely and wanted a friend. But the one thing they all said was that they hoped no one at our school would ever be a victim of an act like this.

I worry about this case so much not only because of the age of the girls, but the implications this holds. If they were convinced that Slenderman was real, how many others are there? Are there students who are walking through the halls of the school, so convinced that no one loves them and so desperate to be a part of something, that they are willing to sacrifice the life of another student? At what point do we, as adults, need to sit down with our students and explain the difference between fantasy and reality?

My students can laugh and roll their eyes at me all they want, but I have decided that I am going to host a group on social media. A part of this is going to be discussing how not everything on the Internet is real, or true. At this age, they are still learning about being skeptical and not accepting everything as fact. I hope that my students take these lessons and use them well. I encourage parents, guardians, and other responsible adults to take the time to sit with their children and go over these facts as well. Together, we will be able to raise well-educated, savvy students!

Wisdom and Wisecracks From my Middle School Students

redheels_bike2By Sabrina Bong — Ever since I started at the middle school, I have been accumulating stories about my kids.

Some are serious, but a good majority of them are funny. I think my favorite one is where my elementary students thought I fell off my bicycle because I was wearing high heels while riding on it! (And for the record, I was not wearing heels; I am just naturally klutzy!)

This year, I am teaching a class for seventh grade students. To start the class, I asked the students to write a “bucket list,” which is a list of things you want to accomplish before you die. Some of the lists were rather entertaining!

After reading through all 29 responses, I compiled a list of the top 10 things my students wrote.  Here are some of the most popular things on their buckets lists (in order!)

  1. Ride an ostrich (Really? An ostrich? And out of 29 students, 15 of them want to ride an ostrich.)
  2. Let go of a floating lantern
  3. Get married
  4. Have kids
  5. Move to California (or another state, but California was mentioned several times.)
  6. Go to college (some students even mentioned specific schools!)
  7. Become a professional athlete
  8. Drive/ride in a fancy car
  9. Get a job
  10. Go skydiving

I asked them the next day to write a piece of advice that they would give a new student at the school. Some of the responses include:

“Don’t just be a star, be a shooting star! Chase your dreams and wish for the best.”

“Don’t date until you are mentally mature enough to date.”

“Be yourself. Don’t worry about what other people think of you. Just do what you want, wear what you want, and don’t listen to what other people think of you.”

“Always try again. When you fail, it’s actually your first attempt at learning.”

“Stay out of the drama. Do it. It will make life better.”

“Get to class on time all the time. Otherwise your teachers get really mad.”

“Don’t laugh when you’re on your iPad, because then your teachers know you aren’t actually doing your work.”

“Don’t get your teacher mad, especially if she’s about to have a baby.”

“Everyone has gone through being a new student at one time or another. Everything will turn out fine.”

I wanted to share these responses for many reasons. The first is that some of them are pretty amusing, and we all need to just laugh once in a while! I know I was giggling quite a bit when I saw that many of my students wanted to ride an ostrich. Apparently, some of them began Googling how to ride an ostrich and found out that there are places where you can actually race while riding an ostrich …

I also wanted to share these responses because while many of them are amusing, some are very deep. As I was reading all of the advice that they would give a new student, I was touched by their responses. Many of the people who mentioned drama were heavily involved in drama last year. It’s as if they are drawing from their personal experiences and rethinking their past decisions. It’s also eerie to see pieces of my own advice crop up in their responses (I can’t tell you how often I tell my middle school students not to date!)

I’ve learned a lot from my kids, just from their responses. I’ve learned that even though my 12 and 13 year old students are still kids, they have also seen quite a bit in life.

Great job, students! I’m so proud of you.


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