Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

A school guidance counselor's calming ground


When a portable classroom became available for an office, Fox Chapel Middle School seventh-grade guidance counselor Elena Clemente jumped at the opportunity. Then she took a look at it. "When I walked in and saw it, it looked so blah and I had to do something with it," she said. She began looking for donations and was able to redo the office, in an, um, interesting style. When she ran out of one color of donated paint, she moved to the next. The room has four different colored walls.

But she has a theme. It's sort of Key West-like.

"I wanted to have a more kid-friendly place for them," Clemente said. When students are called to guidance, it looks like they're in trouble, she explained. "We're trying to keep them out of trouble."

The decor includes purple, blue, aqua and pink walls. There are hot pink plastic lounge chairs and a couple of beanbag chairs. There is a palm tree with flowers and colored lights on it. A window is framed in blue lights and a signed Jason Taylor Miami Dolphins jersey hangs in it.

Other decorations are scattered around the room: Puppets, a parrot, a green and yellow red-toed frog, a flamingo, a big stuffed tiger and a fiber-optic butterfly.

A live creature, Missy Sue, a pug, is trained to provide comfort. "All therapy dogs are supposed to do just this," said eighth-grade guidance counselor Cathy Mara. "Just sit."

Mara is a Walden University intern who is also substituting for counselor Ana Ridenour, who is on maternity leave. Missy Sue, Mara said, is from Therapy Dogs International.

The revamping of the guidance office was Clemente's way of creating a place where students feel comfortable when they come for counseling and/or group therapy. "No one ever wants to leave," Mara said. "We offer them an oasis."

Dakota Neumann, 13, is an eighth-grader who helped with the transformation over the summer. He picked up bugs and cleaned out cobwebs. "I helped paint some of it," he said.

Dakota's help benefits him directly. He is an office aide during third period each day. He also comes by on Wednesdays during his lunchtime for grief counseling, having lost his father last spring.

Jacob Tures, 14, also an eighth-grader, said the office is relaxing. "I like the color of the wall," he said, indicating the purple one.

John Schlicher visits the colorful room regularly from the district office to provide school social services. He covers Fox Chapel and three other schools and was at Fox Chapel recently for a therapy session. "I facilitate the group here on anger," he said.

"This room makes (students) more comfortable and at ease," he said. "They could be angry and come into this room and become calm. And if they're not calm, it's easier to calm them. I think all schools should have a room like this."

That observation validates Clemente's efforts, especially since the redecorating went on during the summer while both principal Ray Pinder and assistant principal Royce Green were on vacation, but she says, "It just happened that way."

It's okay with Pinder, though, since it reminds him of the place where he was born. "I'm a little endeared to it, because it has that Key West theme," he said. "We needed an area here, a calm place, where students could go. Middle school kids respond to things that are different, things unique. I think it's going to work out good for kids."

A school guidance counselor's calming ground 09/24/08 [Last modified: Sunday, September 28, 2008 12:23pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Review / photos: Sunset Music Festival wraps up with Above and Beyond, more at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa


    The first numbers trickled in on Sunday, and they didn't look great.

    Louis the Child performed at the Sunset Music Festival at Raymond James Stadium on May 28, 2017.
  2. Philippines forces make gains in city under siege by ISIS-linked militants

    MARAWI, Philippines — Philippine forces say they now control most of a southern city where militants linked to the Islamic State group launched a bloody siege nearly a week ago.

  3. Rays exhausted but happy after 15-inning win over Twins (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — Before the Rays eventually won Sunday's 6½-hour, 15-inning marathon against the Twins 8-6, they did plenty to lose it. And we need to get that out of the way first.

    The Rays’ Evan Longoria enjoys a laugh after scoring, barely, to tie it in the ninth on Steven Souza Jr.’s two-out single.
  4. Tom Jones' Two Cents: ABC's Indy 500 coverage is stellar again

    TV and Radio

    Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Best coverage

    Takuma Sato left, celebrates after winning the Indianapolis 500 as Helio Castroneves is a little late passing him. ABC’s coverage of the race is stellar throughout, with plenty of extras but no fake drama.
  5. Takuma Sato surprise winner of wreck-filled Indy 500

    Auto racing

    INDIANAPOLIS — Takuma Sato, a journeyman driver, became the first Japanese winner of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday when he held off three-time champion Helio Castroneves in a 230-mph wheel-rubbing duel to the finish.

    Scott Dixon’s car goes over the top of Jay Howard, soaring so high that Helio Castroneves drove under it while it was airborne. Stunningly, there were no serious injuries.