President's Message

By Kelly Curtis, WSCA President

At the Wisconsin PBIS Networking Conference in August, I attended a session about Culturally Responsive Classrooms.  The speaker, Kathy Myles from the Wisconsin RTI Center shared an insightful message about seeing behaviors with a cultural lens and that “culture” doesn’t mean just ethnicity or race.  As school counselors, we may need to be sensitive to various cultures including religion, gender, nationality, youth, or poverty. When we begin to see behaviors with a lens for all these cultures, we can better recognize when a behavior is “cultural”, rather than “wrong” and respond in a way that guides a child toward learning our school’s expectations without disrespecting the child’s cultural identity.

Author Pamela Hays wrote that the way we become culturally competent is to “engage in our own ongoing cultural self-assessment through individually-oriented work (e.g., introspection, self-questioning, reading, some forms of research) and interpersonal learning (e.g., community activities, diverse media, and peer-level relationships.)”

The fact you’re reading this far into my message probably indicates you are culturally responsive in some way. Most of us have much to learn though since there are many cultures we probably have not been exposed to. I will close with four excellent questions Myles asked us to consider as we grow in our own cultural competence:

  • Can you think of anyone that works with you, a family member, or friend that you believe is culturally competent?
  • Why do you think they are culturally competent?
  • Are you culturally competent? Why do you think so? How do you know?
  • What steps have you taken to improve your knowledge and understanding of your students and colleagues who are from a different racial/ethnic/cultural group from your own?


Four Key Words in Cultural Responsiveness

Validate - Making legitimate that which the institution (academia) and mainstream have made illegitimate

Affirm  - Making positive that which the institution (academia) and mainstream media have made negative

Build - Making the connections between the home culture/language and the school culture/language through instructional strategy and activity

Bridge -  Giving opportunities for situational appropriateness or utilizing appropriate cultural or linguistic behavior

(Source: Dr. Sharroky Hollie, Executive Director for The Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning)

Topic of the Month:  Cultural Competence

Multicultural Competency as a School Counselor

Written By Tammi Fure, Middle School Vice President

School counselors work every day with students and families from diverse backgrounds, which can challenge us and help us grow as a professional.  As diversity continues to increase within our schools, school counselors need to develop competencies in regards to awareness, knowledge, and skills to effectively address the needs of the student population. Overall, school counselors want to promote success of all students along with increasing their awareness, understanding, and appreciation of diversity within the students and families they work with.

The American School Counselor Association’s position on the professional school counselor and cultural diversity is that “Professional school counselors collaborate with stakeholders to create a school and community climate that embraces cultural diversity and helps to remove barriers that impede student success” (ASCA, 2009). Not only does multiculturalism pertain to race and ethnicity, but also social identities such as sexuality.  Cannon (2005) suggests that multicultural competence should not focus solely on race issues, but on a number of social identities that intersect with individuals, organizations, and society.

Using the multicultural counseling competencies Arredondo et al. (1996) operationalizes the multicultural counseling competencies, so that counselors can learn about themselves and their clients in the areas of attitudes and beliefs, knowledge, and skills. Attitudes and beliefs involves counselors reflecting on themselves on how their attitude and beliefs are similar or different from their clients. The component of knowledge involves increasing ones knowledge about different perspectives to allow for open, respectful dialogue, which includes similarities and differences. Finally, skills involves not placing the counselor’s values onto the client, so the client can find their own way to promote growth. 

There are several ways school counselors can increase their multicultural competencies. The first is to learn about yourself, such as self-assessing your values, beliefs, and ethnic heritage.  A second way is to learn about different cultures. This can be done through literature written by minority authors about specific cultures, attending workshops/seminars/diversity focused conferences, and attending graduate classes. A third way is to interact with diverse cultures.  For instance, finding volunteer opportunities or additional supplementary work that solely involves interacting with members of the diverse group.  In addition, you could join organizations that focus on multicultural issues.  Finally, lobby your department or school for additional training (Clay, 2010).

There are several reasons school counselors need to be culturally competent.  Schools are working hard to close the achievement gaps for different cultures.  In order to close the gap while increasing those same students in taking accelerated Advanced Placement and honor classes school counselors are needed, especially if those same students will attend college. As a school counselor you will be culturally competent when you have the skills that allow you to work effectively with students that have a variety of cultural backgrounds and acknowledging cultural similarities and differences have an impact on the counseling process (Erdford, 2007).

With the population changing within the school setting it is ever so important that counselors are culturally competent.  This means we need to come together to meet the challenges and demands of our diverse student population whether that be race and ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation, age, disability status, socioeconomic status and/or sexual orientation.  Becoming more responsive and respectful as a counseling professional will benefit students by allowing us to become more aware of cultures or lifestyles that are different from our own.

American School Counselor Association (2009). The Professional School Counselor and Cultural Diversity. Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved July 26, 2014, from

Arredondo, P., Toporek, R., Brown, S., & Jones, J. (1996). Operationalization of the multicultural counseling competencies. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 24(1), 42-78.

Cannon, E. P. (2005). The need to infuse multicultural competence into a master’s level community counseling internship. Vistas 2005. Retrieved July 26, from

Clay, R. A.. (2010, September). How do I become culturally competent? Both research and practice-oriented psychology students can benefit from a healthy dose of self-reflection, experts say. gradPSYCH, 8(3).

Erdford, B. T. (2006). Transforming the School Counseling Profession 2/e: Old Tappan, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

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DPI Corner

Mental Health and Suicide Prevention: Addressing the Challenges
Gregg Curtis; DPI School Counseling Consultant

The recent death of comedian/actor Robin Williams raised the general public’s awareness of mental health and suicide. As we examine the national and Wisconsin landscapes related to these issues, it is clear that we face increasing challenges.

The national literature about childhood/young adulthood mental illness provides some alarming context into the students we serve. Half of lifetime (chronic) mental illness starts by age 14. Additionally, 20% of all adolescents experience significant symptoms of emotional distress, and 10% have moderate to severe symptoms with significant impairment. The most common disorders are depression, anxiety, ADHD, and substance abuse. Unfortunately, 60-90% with mental health disorders do not receive treatment.

Some of the most revealing Wisconsin data comes from the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). It shows that 56% of the state’s high school students reported that their mental health was not good on one or more of the past 30 days. This result included a significant gender difference; with males = 45% and females = 67%. Alarmingly, that’s 2 out of 3 females walking the halls of our high schools.

The 2013 YRBS also showed 25% of high school students reported that they felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row during the past 12 months that they stopped doing some usual activities. This is part of the clinical definition of major depressive disorder; and again, there was a significant gender difference: males = 17%; females = 33%. The fact that 1 out of 4 young adults report depressive symptoms suggests a growing need for mental health interventions.

How are students different if they receive services? We know that addressing student’s mental health is associated with positive school outcomes. Effective services (whether school-based or clinic-based) increase academic achievement, decrease problem behaviors, and improve school and classroom climate. The bottom line is that mental health promotion helps create a better learning environment and improves teaching conditions.

It is important to not over-simplify the concept of mental health by using a “healthy/unhealthy” dichotomy. Mental health is not an “either-or” situation.  We all have good and bad mental health days. Rather, we should consider mental health on a continuum. Students may have symptoms and behaviors without having a diagnosable disorder. Additionally, students may have a diagnosable disorder that is managed well, so there are minimal symptoms and behaviors. As counselors, we are trained to meet our clients/students where they are in the moment. Consideration into the fluidity of mental health can help us in that endeavor.

Two specific mental health issues require extra attention in determining whether a student is in the throes of a mental health episode or just having a bad day: trauma and suicide.

Trauma is an individual’s response to a highly stressful event or ongoing series of events; trauma is not the event itself.  Children growing up in dangerous environments may be in a constant state of “yellow alert” (survival mode) which often results in one or more of the lower brain functions: flight (leave or hide), fight (act out with verbal and physical aggression), or freeze (shut down, withdraw or dissociate). This can certainly have an impact on classroom behavior as students exhibit behavioral clues such as reactivity and impulsivity, aggression, defiance, withdrawal, perfectionism, and/or mistrust in adult and peer relationships.

Trauma can also impact a student’s academic performance through negative effects on language and communication skills, the ability to organize narrative material, understanding cause and effect relationships, taking another’s perspective, attentiveness to classroom tasks, regulating emotions, and engaging the curriculum.

As we work with both our students and the school adults with whom they interact, it can be helpful to ask ourselves/others, “How do we see these students?” Often the uniformed adult views students who are experiencing the effects of trauma as having anger management problems or ADHD. They see these students as choosing to act out in disrespectful or manipulative ways, as uncontrollable, destructive, or non-responsive. These view leads to the uniformed responses of assigning the student negative consequences, punishments, or an ADHD evaluation.

Alternatively the trauma-informed adult views these students as using maladaptive responses to “normal” school situations or seeking to get needs met but having difficulty regulating emotions or lacking necessary skills. They recognize that students who’ve experienced trauma often have a negative view of the world (e.g., adults cannot be trusted) and that most often the trauma response is triggered by some seemingly innocuous circumstance. This view leads to a trauma-informed response: the students need to learn skills to regulate emotions, and we need to provide support.
The most common school adaptations and supports for students impacted by trauma include helping adults identify and avoid triggers (remove stimuli that may trigger students), teaching students skills to effectively regulate emotions, building positive relationships with students, providing a predictable environment by foreshadowing changes in routine,  and creating opportunities for students to make choices (thereby empowering them to take control of a situation in a positive rather than negative way).
The second specific mental health issue requiring special consideration is suicide. CNN recently reported that, globally, a suicide occurs every 40 seconds. In Wisconsin, from 1999–2014, 660 youths ages 5-19 have intentionally ended their lives. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of deaths for that age group; behind only unintentional/accidental deaths. Additionally, over that same time span, the WI suicide rate per 100,000 children age 5-19 has been below the US suicide rate only once (2008). These statistics are alarming.
As we know, literature has assured us that suicide is not a singular event; rather, it’s a process with observable warning signs. The 2013 YRBS data shows the percentages of WI high school students who reported being sad/hopeless (Females = 33%, Males = 17%), seriously considering suicide (Females = 16%, Males = 10%), making a plan for suicide (Females = 15%, Males = 9%), and attempting suicide (Females = 6%, Males = 6%). This data shows a narrowing, yet statistically significant, gender difference in the downward spiral. What that data does not show is that males die by suicide at a rate four times greater than females.
While mental health issues cannot be prevented and must be dealt with using effective interventions, suicide can be prevented. Mandated by law to be included in districts’ health curriculums, students and adults can be taught suicide prevention warning signs; and they can learn what to do if/when they recognize someone exhibiting a warning sign. Suicide prevention trainings can be scheduled with the Wisconsin Safe and Healthy Schools Center ( or through DPI.
Trauma Resources

Suicide Prevention Resources

  • DPI’s Suicide Prevention webpage
  • Resources include:
    • Data about youth suicide
    • Suicide prevention and WI state laws
    • Annual notice of youth suicide prevention resources
    • Gatekeeper training webcast
    • Student programs and curriculums (middle school and high school)
    • Youth suicide prevention/intervention/postvention strategies
    • Screening resources
    • Recommendations for school or community memorials
    • Resources from other organizations (Suicide Prevention Resource Center, SAMHSA, etc.)
  • DPI Full-day Suicide Prevention Workshop
WSCA Fall Summit: Mental Health in Schools

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Board Member Spotlight

Steve Schneider: Conference Coordinator
As I was sitting in my office the other day, catching my breath after the first two weeks of school, I found myself dumbstruck by the fact that I am starting my 18th year as a high school counselor.  That just doesn't seem possible!  It seems like every year I'm still learning something new.  I suppose that's what keeps our profession exciting.  This year, beyond my own building (Sheboygan South HS) and district, I'm learning about what is involved with being the WSCA Conference co-chair.  I'm excited to serve our profession in this new role.  Much of my most valuable professional growth has come as a result of being involved on the WSCA Board (first as the Treasurer, then as the President, and now as the Conference co-chair).  I'm particularly excited about the conference as we will be celebrating 50 years as an association!  We have some special plans in place including a big champagne toast during the social on Wednesday evening. We hope you will all join us as we celebrate the first 50 years of WSCA!
Liz Singer: Graduate Student Representative
Hi, my name is Liz Singer and I am the 2014-2015 Graduate Student Representative. I am a student at UW-Whitewater, and I first became involved with WSCA in the spring of 2012 when I attended a graduate student committee meeting with the previous UW-W representative. The year after that, I held the honor of being the co-representative for my school. I am now in my final year of graduate school. I work as the supervisor of an after-school program in Merton and I am interning in the Watertown School District, primarily at Schurz Elementary and Webster Elementary, under the expert supervision of WSCA member, Karen Sturdevant. I am excited to combine my learning on the board, my experiences interning, and what I have learned in my courses as I prepare to graduate in May. I am very much looking forward to finding a permanent placement as a Professional School Counselor for the 2015-2016 school year!

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Upcoming Events & Announcements

The Search for 2015 Conference Presenters…

Have you ever considered presenting at the WSCA conference, but something got in the way? Perhaps you became too busy or the nerves set in and you started questioning yourself? You’re not alone. Why not make 2015 your year? The sectional sessions are the heart and soul of our annual conference.
To continue the conference’s rich tradition of providing outstanding professional development, the Conference Committee needs practicing school counselors to share their expertise and best practices by submitting sectional proposals. Following the conference each year, we receive feedback from our members, and each year school counselors are asking for more sectionals presented by practicing school counselors. To do this, we need YOUR help! Presenting a sectional at the WSCA conference not only is a great way to give back to your profession and share your hard work with those who are eager to learn, but it can also be a very rewarding experience for you both personally and professionally.

Click Here to Download the 2015 Call for Sectional Programs (PDF) - Deadline 11/14/14

Register Today!  WSCA October Fall Summit, generously sponsored and hosted at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau. The day of learning and work time will be Thursday, October 23, 2014.

New Topics: Option one will be focused on Mental Health. In the morning, Dr. Michael I. Axelrod will be presenting “Helping Children Overcome Anxiety: An Introduction to Therapeutic Techniques and Evidence-based Strategies.” In the afternoon we will be discussing satellite mental health clinics co-located in schools – an amazing partnership that makes mental health services more accessible to students. Option 2 will be a WSCPAR work and feedback session.

Where: North Central Technical College, Wausau, WI
           1000 W. Campus Dr., Wausau, WI 54401

When: Thursday, October 23, 2014 from 9:00a.m.-4:00p.m. (includes lunch)
For more information & to register, check or contact Paula Haugle at

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October 2014

President's Message
By Kelly Curtis

Topic of the Month:
Cultural Competence

Upcoming Events & Announcements