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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]
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