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Shaler Area SD counselor named top in the state

The pandemic has put an acute focus on mental health, especially for our students. And it’s made the work of our school counselors and psychologists that much more vital. Lezlie DelVecchio-Marks – a member in the Shaler Area School District – was recently recognized as the Pennsylvania School Counselor of the Year by the Pennsylvania School Counselors Association (PSCA).

DelVecchio-Marks has been a counselor for 19 years and worked in the district for the past 14. She currently splits her time between Burchfield Primary and Reserve Primary Schools and has made it her mission with these young students to reinforce notions of kindness, tolerance, self-esteem, and positive body image through a number of schoolwide programs like No Makeup Day (for staff), No Name-Calling Week, Girls Rock, and more. She even hosts schoolwide “Showcase Night” theatrical performances – including a virtual performance this year – that serve to reinforce these themes throughout the school community.

We caught up with DelVecchio-Marks to talk about her experience over the past year.

PSEA: Your district, like many others, has bounced back and forth between virtual and hybrid models throughout this pandemic. How has that affected the work you do?

Lezlie DelVecchio-Marks: It’s been interesting because I had things in my mind for what I was going to do virtually with students, and now I'm going to have some of them back again in person, which is nice. But I feel as though I’m rethinking all the time.
When the students were virtual in the beginning of the year, I held virtual classroom lessons through Google Meet. So I would join the teacher’s established Google classroom just like the students, but then I would lead the class.
In my first classroom lesson, we talked about school helpers, and I reintroduced them to what a school counselor does.
My second lesson was on calming tools. I made a virtual calming room for the whole district, and I actually taught the kids how to utilize the resources and navigate through the website. I got some nice feedback on that website from both students and families.

PSEA: How has the use of technology impacted your relationship with your students?
DelVecchio-Marks: I’ve been more technologically advanced than I’ve ever been in my life this year. But it’s nice. When we started this last year in March, I made it my mission to learn as much as I could when I could. So I attended so many professional development webinars, anything that was available. I tried to attend them all.
A lot of them centered around ways to make connections virtually with students and deliver lessons to groups virtually. These opportunities really helped me. My data collection is so much better. It’s truly guiding my whole approach this year. Even though it’s different, I almost feel like it’s the best I’ve ever been.

PSEA: How so?
DelVecchio-Marks: I think just because I’m more knowledgeable about ways to keep track of things. It’s just a different way of being organized and to track the contacts and connections that I’ve made with students. There have been so many different things I’ve tried this year. I feel almost like I’m more connected, which sounds odd. But because I had fewer students at one time, that has helped too because I have a pretty big ratio.

I’ve always lived above the ratio [The American School Counseling Association (ASCA) recommends a ratio of 250 students for every one school counselor]. In my first job, I had three schools and I had 1,100 students, so the counselor to student ratio was 1,100 to 1. That was many years ago. That’s why I actually transferred to this district. At that point, I was in two schools and I had about 450 students. Now I’m actually a little bit higher. I’m still in two schools but now my ratio is about 510 to 1.

Usually elementary school coun­selors have the highest ratio. And a lot of times we’ll share buildings like I do. My school district actually hired a part-time counselor who was due to start this year, but because of COVID, that position wasn’t financially feasible for this year, but I’m hopeful for the future.

PSEA: What things have you picked up during the pandemic that have helped you in your practice?

DelVecchio-Marks: When hybrid started, I did something new that I’d learned in my summer training called a “minute meeting.” I sat down behind a screen, and the kids were behind another screen. I would ask each student about five questions. It takes about three min­utes. However, in that short period of time I was able to get data on how they felt academically, socially, and about their friendships to see where they might need some help.

So I’m able now, from that data, to plan out what I’m going to do as far as lessons, groups, and individual interven­tions for the rest of the year. But even in those one to three minutes or whatever I had with them, I learned things about kids that I didn’t know even in all the years that I’ve been here. So it was really nice, and I think they also felt more con­nected with me.

One of my questions was, “Is there an adult in the building that you feel that you could go to for help if needed?” and 97 percent of the kids said yes, and most of those yes responses were me. In addi­tion, some of them said their teachers or our principal, who is awesome. It was comforting to hear that 97 percent of my students feel supported in the school set­ting, even in this current environment. And it was especially nice that they rec­ognized that I would be a source of help for them too.