Monday, May 16, 2016

Growing Awareness Month: Success! By: Diana Patterson

Hi Star Families,
I am happy to announce that Growing Awareness Month was a complete success and the committee is jumping for joy!  We began the month with a Blue Spirit Day. Both students and teachers wore blue to support Autism. During the month the committee read to each class about the different “invisible disabilities”. We accomplished this by choosing age appropriate books on the topic. This is our third year reading to the kiddos about Autism and we can see they are grasping and understanding the information.  We had wonderful discussions and breakthrough moments.  

Star Academy 3rd Grade Class. Photo Credit: Susie Steinlein

Star Academy Kindergarten Class

Emily Shane, Star Academy’s art teacher joined in our committee and pitched in by incorporating our theme “Growing our Awareness”  into her art classes and creating a beautiful display in one of our halls.  She has written the following:
In art class, we touched briefly on each of the disorders and watched short video clips about each one.  Our focus in Art was primarily on how artwork and public displays can help bring awareness to any cause.  We discussed the traditional symbol for Autism and the colors most associated with it, and how color and symbols are used to help our brains make connections with specific words or concepts.  Students were so excited to have their individual artwork on a puzzle piece as contribution to the collaborative art display.”


To help our parents stay informed and learn more about each disability we posted 5 facts on our school Facebook page every Monday in April.  Additionally, our school counselor Caroline Hines created a Growing Awareness checklist to help get our students making outside connections.  Below is a poster one student created to describe what acceptance means.


This year we created an anonymous form to give other parents a way to share their experiences.  We had a great post written about #Anxiety and #ADHD from a teacher, click here to check it out!  Jenifer Pearsall wrote a post about getting an #Autism diagnosis,  click here to see it!  Diana Patterson shared a post about her son’s #Autism diagnosis, click here to read more about it.  
Also new this year was our movie night! We donated all the proceeds to our local UC Davis Mind Institute!  It was such a great success. We fundraised $225!!!! Can I get a round of applause?! Thank you so much! These funds will go to purchase toys to use during therapy sessions. If you want to read more about the Tadpole study please click here.

Last but not least we had a successful toy drive. We had 54 donations which included toy sets, sensory balls, legos, books, art supplies, and puzzles. Here’s a picture of some of the toys!


2016 was an amazing year for Growing Awareness Month.  Thank you so much Star families for all your support and compassion.  Please don’t hesitate to contact Jenifer Pearsall and Diana Patterson if you have any comments, questions, or concerns.  Lastly, if you would like to join our committee please let us know! Next year we will have more classes and we also want to expand this to the main campus.  Thank You!!!

Jenifer Pearsall:
Diana Patterson:

Left: Caroline Hines, Center: Jenifer Pearsall, Right: Diana Patterson

Parent Training April 2015

Thursday, March 10, 2016

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Blog Challenge

I've been tagged to participate in the 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Challenge!
I realized that this will be my first Blog in 2016 - how quickly times flies! I'm amazed we are already in the month of March. Writing this blog is a fun opportunity for me and also a good chance to reflect - the Counselor is usually the one asking the questions and helping others reflect, so this is a nice change of course!

Here we go!

One: What has been your one biggest struggle this year?
I would say that my biggest struggle has been time! (That seems to be a common theme for almost everyone who has completed this challenge!) I am split between five academies and three different physical locations every week. I constantly feel like I'm not able to do enough or left wishing I could do more. It's been my struggle to make peace with this and focus on the things that I am able to accomplish each day. The bigger events and larger school initiatives are harder to pull off when I am so many different places, but the extra work and effort to make them happen are worth it! I am also very lucky to have teachers and administrators at my schools who are so supportive of counseling and social-emotional learning. They help make so much of my work with students possible.

Two: Share two accomplishments you are proud of from this year.
I am super proud of the continuing focus on Kindness at Star Academy and PACT Academy. We have done amazing things this year in the Kind Kids Club (Star) and with the PACT Acts of Kindness Club. Star and PACT Academy collected 1,842 items this year for #Socktober, benefitting homeless families in our community! NCS students also served the community in a variety of other ways: Writing letters to Veterans currently deployed, singing holiday carols at an elderly Care Home in Sacramento, creating Valentine's for children currently hospitalized, raising money and also collecting supplies for the animals at the Front Street Animal Shelter!

My second accomplishment is focusing on my self-care more this year and practicing self-advocacy. In past years, I often neglected my own social-emotional well-being and sometimes bit off more than I could chew. I am working harder on setting boundaries and taking time each day to refocus and practice mindfulness. I've dedicated some time each week to exercise and have enjoyed participating in Zumba after school on Wednesdays.

Three: What are three things you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?
1. Data
My plan before the end of the year is to reach out to parents and teachers/staff to get feedback about current counseling services and social-emotional learning. I am really interested in finding out what has been helpful, what they would like to see more of, areas I can provide more support in next year, and future opportunities for parents and teachers/staff that I can potentially provide. I am also interested in identifying areas of growth and figuring out ways I can improve my services!

2. Licensure Application
I have a personal goal/professional goal to apply for counseling licensure that I've been trying to "work on" for the last four years. I'm very close, literally finishing up the last steps of the application process, but this has continued to stay on the back burner. I finally feel like I'm in a place to tackle it, and I need to get the ball rolling so I can start counting hours!

3. Read and Write
Being a parent (with almost full-time employment) is like having a job that never ends. Opportunities to read, write, and reflect are few and far between. I hope to read two books by the end of the school year, and blog once a month until June (by completing this blog I'm already one step closer!)

Four: Give four reasons why you remain in education in today's rough culture.
1. Kids Matter
Being a counselor in the school setting is such an amazing opportunity to provide social-emotional learning to students, experiences to build a growth mindset, and teach children about healthy choices. My favorite part of each day is building relationships with and interacting with students. My wish for each child is that they can learn how to lead a healthy and happy life. I don’t believe there is such thing as a “bad” student and I don’t believe in labeling children. I think every child is trying to do the best they can under their current circumstances and with the tools and skills that they know. Young people are filled will promise, hope, and possibility!  

2. I Love Feelings!
Working with students and helping them understand and process emotions is my passion. I also love working with teachers, staff and parents, and providing insight into difficult behaviors and sharing resources. Many children (and adults) try to avoid negative feelings (like sadness and anger), will attempt to hide them or cope with them in an unsafe or unhealthy way. Seeing children overcoming their fears or using coping skills in difficult situations is the greatest feeling as a counselor. When they don’t need us anymore and can handle things on their own, we know they are making growth.  

3. Social Justice and Advocacy 
Part of my job is providing awareness and education about mental health conditions and actively working to remove the stigma associated with mental health conditions and treatment. I believe that healthcare and (mental health care) is a right of all people - everyone should be able to get the help they need. I feel passionate about issues impacting mental health and well-being in my community and on a national scale.  

4. Love to Learn
As a school counselor, I am constantly learning from others, making new connections, and problems solving. I enjoy connecting with professionals who are just as passionate as I am about supporting students and their social-emotional growth. I also love pushing myself to learn and grow in areas where I’m not so comfortable - like technology! I make it a point to regularly connect with other counselors in the field, mental health professionals, and educators. I also try to take advantage of professional development and learning opportunities as much as I can!

Five: Which five people do you hope will take the challenge of answering these questions?
I know many have been tagged already, but let’s see…you're next!
1. Joe Wood
2. Tammy Lee 
3. Kirsten Spall
4. Elsa Prettol
5. Kham Vue

Friday, November 20, 2015

Kindness Makes a Difference!

Last month was full of amazing things!

It was so much fun celebrating #healthychoices during Red Ribbon Week and seeing what PACT and Star Academy families do to get active, eat healthy and have fun!

We also held #Socktober donations drives at PACT Academy and Star Academy during the month of October and received hundreds of pairs of socks, toiletries, food, clothing, and essentials for families in our community! Proceeds were donated to Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento.

We had such a HUGE response from NCS students and families!

PACT Acts of Kindness Club and the Kind Kids Club 5th graders helped promote the donation drives, creating signs, doing sidewalk chalk art, and spread word to their friends and neighbors!

Some of our 5th grade students at Star Academy in Mrs. Rohrbacker's class even made a short video to spread the word about #Socktober!

How did we do? Check out all of the totals below!

PACT Academy Totals:
511   Toiletries (toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs/brushes, shampoo/conditioner, etc.)
257  Diapers
250  Pairs of Socks
68    Clothing Items
21    Living Essentials (garbage bags, ponchos, etc.)
33    Combs/Brushes
10    Food Items
5      Stuffed Toys
3      Underwear
2      Backpacks

Total Number of Items: 1,160

Star Academy Totals:
338   Pairs of Socks
201   Food Items
34     Underwear
33     Toiletries (toothbrushes, toothpaste, combs/brushes, shampoo/conditioner, etc.)
24     Undershirts
23     Items of Clothing
15     Hats
15     Packages of Baby Wipes
3       Pairs of Gloves
3       Jackets
3       Blankets
2       Belts
1       Scarf
1       Pairs of Shoes
1       Package of Diapers

Total Number of Items: 697

GRAND Total: 1,842 Items
Biggest Totals: 588 Pairs of Socks and 544 Toiletries Items! Wow!

Last week we delivered the items to Loaves and Fishes and filled an entire pallet with items from the donation drives. These items will be distributed to men, women, and children in the Loaves and Fishes programs, including their Mustard Seed School which had recently seen a record increase in the number of students attending (see Sacramento Bee Article here).

Loaves and Fishes also served their 7 millionth meal in September!
(You can read more here).

I would just like to express my thanks and gratitude to all of the students and families who helped support our #Socktober donation drives and helped give back to our Sacramento Community! 

A special thanks to PACT Acts of Kindness Club and Kind Kids Club 5th Graders!

It's so amazing how a little kindness can make such a huge difference.

If you'd like to learn about some other ways to share kindness during the upcoming holiday season, you can find some ideas below. 

Happy Thanksgiving! Have a wonderful holiday break.

Sacramento 211

Sacramento 211 - Thanksgiving Assistance and Volunteer/Donation Opportunities

Sactown Magazine
Fun ways to give back this Holiday Season (Sactown Magazine):

Thursday, October 15, 2015

#Socktober 2015: Star Academy

It's that time of year again!

Last year, as part of the Kind Kids Club, we organized a small donation drive in 5th Grade, benefitting the Loaves and Fishes non-profit organization in Sacramento. This year, we'd like to expand it school-wide and invite everyone at Star Academy to participate!

Read about what we did last year:

What is #Socktober? 
Here is #Socktober's founder, Kid President, to provide an explanation:

You can find out more about the history of #Socktober here:

How does my student/family participate in #Socktober?
It's easy! We are collecting new socks or essentials on the list below. You can bring any of these items to school during the month of October. You can also talk to you neighbors or local businesses and see if they'd like to donate as well! Donation bins are located in classrooms and at the front desk.

You can also share what you're doing for #Socktober on social media! 
#NCSStar #Socktober #KindKidsClub

Last day of collection will be Friday, October 30th.

Please contact me if you have any questions:


Donation List: 
Printable Flyer: HERE

Urgent Items:
Loaves and Fishes' Mustard Seed school is currently impacted and for the first time will start a waiting for students. 
Clothes, socks, and undergarments for older children, 3rd-8th grade. 
Gift card donations for: Payless, Walmart, and Target

You can read more here in the recent Sacramento Bee Article:

October Needs List:

Women's New Underwear - Sleeping Bags & Blankets - Tennis Shoes - Baby Wipes
Size 5 & 6 Diapers - Children's Belts - Clorox Wipes - Travel Size Toothpaste
Healthy Snacks - Granola bars, applesauce, etc. - Children's New Rain Gear
Ground Coffee/Coffee Mugs - Men's Shoes - Reading Glasses  - Old Prescription Glasses

Basic Needs List:
New socks - Warm Gloves - Scarves - Knit Hats - Q-tips - Toothpaste and Brushes
Shampoos (large & small) - Conditioners (small) - Lotion (small) - Deodorant
Brushes/Combs - Small Sewing Kits - Small First Aid Kits - Rain Ponchos - Blankets

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Be Kind to Yourself

For the past few weeks, my thoughts have been focused on Kindness!

At the beginning of September, I kicked off the Kind Kids Club with 1st grade students at Star Academy, and last Friday we began the PACT Acts of Kindness Club with our homeschool students!

Students and Parents from the PACT Acts of Kindness Club making posters for our #Socktober Donation Drive which runs the month of October.

Kindergarten students received "Kindness Capes" made by the 1st Grade students. Kindergarten students get to wear them in class when they demonstrate kindness or caring for others!

I feel very grateful that as part of my job, I have to opportunity to share the concept of kindness with children and families. I really enjoy seeing the excitement on students' faces when they've done something kind for someone else and hearing about the happiness it brings them.

Last year, when we were learning about kindness, we talked a lot about the places where you can show kindness to others: at home, at school, and in your community. This year, I'm bringing the focus of kindness inward and talking about how you can also be kind to...

Students are always surprised to hear this! I usually get quite a few perplexed looks and furrowed brows. I know they're thinking, "How can you be kind to yourself?"

As I explain more, many of them realize they are already practicing self-kindness:
  • Choosing to eat healthy and fresh foods to nourish their bodies
  • Staying active and playing outside
  • Getting enough sleep at night 
  • Making safe choices: wearing a seatbelt in the car, wearing a helmet when biking, etc.
  • Taking care of ourselves: brushing our hair, brushing our teeth, taking a bath/shower, etc.
  • Planning time to relax and have fun
However, one aspect of self-kindness that's not so well practiced is called 

Self-compassion is extending understanding and encouragement to yourself when things don't go your way or when you've made a mistake. 

We can choose to speak kindly to ourselves instead of critically. 

        Instead of:                                                             

        "I'm so stupid!"
        "Nobody likes me."
        "I am worthless."
        "It's all my fault."
        "Bad things always happen to me!"
        "I'll never be good at that."
        "I can't believe I said that."
        We can say:

       "I'm trying my best. I won't give up!"
       "I'm going to try some new ways to make friends."
       "I have the right to feel good. I am worth it. "
       "I did my best but things still didn't work out. 
       "It's okay when things don't go my way. That's life!"
       "My hard work will pay off. It takes time to learn new things."
       "Everyone makes mistakes. I'm going to think of ways to repair that relationship."

Essentially, we should try and treat ourselves the way we would treat a close friend who was going through the same problem. This is important, because the thoughts and words we use to talk to ourselves eventually become our experience. In addition, self-compassion or kindness helps reduce anxiety, depression, insecurity and is associated with more consistent feelings of self worth.

According to Dr. Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, this kind of self-compassion helps children build a stable sense of self, not dependent on social status, awards/trophies, or good grades:

"Kindness begins when we understand that we all struggle. Teach your children to talk kindly to themselves versus being critical. This builds a stable sense of self. Self-criticism isn't helpful and only produces a variety of negative consequences, including feeling badly about oneself. Next time your children start saying something critical, point this out to them and then teach them to reframe these thoughts into something positive and forgiving."

"The way we communicate with our children establishes a blue print for how they will eventually communicate with themselves."

"Talk to them in a non-critical way. Teach them how to self soothe during difficult times. Say to a small child, 'Let's practice hugging ourselves like mom and dad do to make you feel better. You can do this for yourself when you feel bad to remember how much you are loved.' Teach older children to put their hand on their heart to self-soothe when upset. These small gestures help them value and feel good about themselves just as they are no matter what is going on." 

"Remind your children that they are not alone in experiencing this difficult thing, other kids feel the exact same way. Everyone struggles, feels inadequate, does not get approved of, or fails at something in life. It's part of our common humanity. This helps normalize what a child is going through and reduces shame and embarrassment over mistakes made and not feeling good enough."

(Dr. Shilagh Mirgain, PhD, UW Health)

So the next time you find yourself facing a challenge or realize you've made a mistake - take a moment to breathe (with the kids) and extend some kindness to yourself...and if there's any kindness left over, pass it on to the next person you see! 

"It's okay when things don't go my way!" 

"Be Kind...Pass it on!"
1st Grade Kindness Capes

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Welcoming the School Year with Mindfulness

Last week we began the new school year. There is something wonderful about starting new and opening our minds to growth, knowledge, and learning!

There's nothing I enjoy more than learning something new (whether it's new research related to social-emotional learning or a skill, a tool, a resource) and having the opportunity to share it with colleagues, families, and the students I work with.

Over the summer, I decided to learn more about mindfulness and begin a mindfulness practice in my own life. Self-care is such an important part of daily life for counselors (and everyone!) but can easily be neglected and pushed aside when obligations to work, school, community, and family take priority.

What is Mindfulness?
 Mindfulness is intentionally bringing awareness to one's experience or present state of being with gentle observation and without judgement.

Mindfulness can be described as a state, a trait, or a practice (Mindful Schools, 2015). We can have a moment of mindfulness, we can carry out mindful practices, or we can engage in mindfulness on a regular basis. Formal mindful practice utilizes different activities to practice awareness: mindful walking, mindful actions/interactions, mindful eating, or seated mindfulness (Mindful Schools, 2015).

When you’re being mindful, you pay attention to what is going on inside of you, noticing:
  • thoughts
  • feelings
  • sensations
  • impulses
You also pay attention to what’s going on outside of you, noticing what you:
  • see
  • hear
  • smell
  • feel 
Adapted from: Marielle Berg, MFT
How Does Mindfulness Work?
Mindfulness changes the brain! Studies show that regular mindfulness practice is associated with shrinking in the brain's stress response center (the amygdala). As this area decreases in volume, the frontal cortex which is responsible for higher order brain functions such as awareness, concentration, and decision-making actually becomes thicker! (Scientific American, 2014).

In addition, the connectivity between these regions of the brain undergoes changes. The connections between areas of the brain associated with attention and concentration get stronger, while the connections between the "stress response" center and the rest of the brain get weaker. What this means for the individual practicing mindfulness is that they are less likely to respond in a reactive, emotional manner and more likely respond with empathy and thoughtfulness.

Why is Mindfulness Important?
The scientific research behind mindfulness is growing each day. Studies show that mindfulness can be a powerful tool for dealing with anxiety, increasing focus, and improving mood (Mindful Schools, 2015). Studies with K-12 grade students demonstrate improvements in working memory, academic skills, social skills, emotional regulation, and self-esteem, as well as self-reported decreases in stress and fatigue (Srinivasan, 2014).

Mindfulness training can also benefit students by increasing sense of well-being in teachers and contributing positively to classroom management and relationships with students (Srinivasan, 2014). Teachers trained in mindfulness techniques also showed lower blood pressure, less symptoms of depression and negative emotions, as well as greater compassion and empathy (Greater Good UC Berekeley, 2015).

Mindfulness practices are also good for parents! Studies show mindfulness may reduce anxiety, stress, and depression in expectant parents. In addition, parents who practiced mindfulness reported being happier with their relationship with their children, felt more satisfaction with their parenting, and in turn, their children demonstrated more advanced social skills (Greater Good UC Berekeley, 2015).

How Does Mindfulness Benefit Children?
Mindfulness benefits children in that it provides them the tools they need to regulate their emotions, focus better, and be more successful in their relationships with others. However, research also shows that mindfulness can help children perform better in school and make academic gains (TIME, 2015).

Researchers provided four months of mindfulness training to one group of 4th and 5th grade students in British Columbia, while a second group of 4th and 5th grade students received standard "social responsibility" education.

During those four months, students in the mindfulness group participated in sensory exercises like mindful smelling and mindful eating, as well as exercises which asked them to view an issue from another's perspective. In addition, students did a three-minute mindfulness exercise three times a day that focused on breathing.

After a number of in-depth measures, researchers found that students in the mindfulness group had 15% better math scores, showed 24% more social behaviors, were 24% less aggressive and perceived themselves as 20% more prosocial. The mindfulness group also performed better in areas of cognitive control, stress levels, emotional control, levels of optimism, empathy, and aggression (TIME, 2015).

In the clip below, Susan Kaiser Greenland (author of "The Mindful Child") demonstrates using mindfulness awareness with young children in a classroom.  Even the youngest children can learn mindfulness: learning to be aware of their bodies, their thoughts and feelings, understanding the feelings of those around them, and techniques like breathing to handle those big feelings in a safe and healthy way.


In this other video, children from a school in Ireland share their experience practicing mindfulness and what it means to them. What I really appreciate about mindfulness is that there is a huge emphasis on kindness (to self and others) and gratitude. Practicing acts of kindness and taking time each day to reflect on things you are grateful for are examples of ways to practice mindfulness!

Older children and teens can utilize mindfulness as a tool to help them handle stress, navigate relationships and social situations, relieve test anxiety, and experience more happiness in their lives. In this video clip from Mindfulness for Teens, adolescents share how practicing mindfulness helped them to slow down and enjoy the present moment. 

Mindfulness Resources
There are many great mindfulness resources out there for children and adults. Some of my favorite books, videos, and websites are listed below. 

Be kind to yourself and others. Stay Mindful! 

Greater Good
University of California, Berkeley
Information, articles, and videos about mindfulness, as well as the latest scientific research. 

Susan Kaiser Greenland
Author of "The Mindful Child"


Mindfulness for Teens 
11 free guided mindfulness exercises, mindful breathing, blog and videos

Dr. Daniel Siegel
Author of "The Mindful Brain"


Mindful Schools
Offers mindfulness courses and certification, resources and videos for parents and educators, and free mindfulness exercises.


Healthy Habits of Mind Documentary (Free) 42 minutes


Still Like a Frog by Eline Snel
Mindfulness Exercises for Kids and their Parents
Interview with the Author


Anneka Harris
Author of "I Wonder"
Free Mindfulness Exercises for Children