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Monday, February 4, 2019

Meet the New Fort Thomas School Counselors

Highlands Middle School counselor Britane Bednar says more counselors means more opportunities to provide proactive support.

By Robin Gee, City Council Beat Editor   

The role of school counselors has developed and expanded in recent years, moving from a mostly service-provider model to a more active support system to help students succeed at all levels. Today, school counselors help students plan and prepare academically, socially and emotionally for the road ahead.

At the start of the 2018-19 school year, the Fort Thomas Independent School District introduced two new counselors, and the great news is these were added positions, giving the schools more “hands on deck” for this challenging role.

Joining the district were Britane Bednar at Highlands Middle School and Ann Listerman at Highlands High School.

Britane Bednar

More counselors on staff means more opportunities to take a proactive approach to supporting children’s success, says Bednar. In the past, counselors spent a lot of time putting out fires, and it was a challenge to get to every student.

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Bednar joined Lori Maines this year at Highlands Middle School, essentially doubling the full-time counseling staff. Students are divided into teams, and she works with all the sixth-grade teams and one eighth grade team, about 400 students in all. Maines handles the remaining teams.

"The top two concerns for middle school students are stress and anxiety," says Bednar. The transition between elementary school and high school brings with it challenges and concerns for many students and their parents.

"A lot of what parents see are struggles that are most typical of this age. This is a really difficult age," she said.

Add to this the challenges students face in the digital age. It’s not that things are that much more challenging than they were 10 or more years ago, but "we weren’t so much worried about not making mistakes," she said.

"Cell phones, social media means making a mistake, saying or doing something wrong, can stay with you [online] for a long time. This creates more pressure to not make those mistakes."

Bednar worked in mental health facilities for both adults and children before entering school counseling. Originally from near Canton, Ohio, she earned her bachelor’s degree at Kent State and a master’s degree in counseling from Northern Kentucky University. Before joining Fort Thomas schools, she worked five years in the Campbell County School District supporting sixth grade students.

"One thing about Fort Thomas is the parental support," she noted. "When we have an event, parents reach out to meet us. Very strong parental support here."

Now that she is on board, the counseling staff have more time to be proactive on issues. They did a needs assessment at the beginning of the school year that helped identify that stress and anxiety are top concerns for the students. Armed with this knowledge, Bednar and Maines were able to design presentations to classrooms on these subjects.

The school is also in its second year of working with the Olweus method designed to help students deal with bullying in school. The program is named for Norwegian psychology professor and researcher Dan Olweus who is considered a world authority on bullying and victimization. Highlands Middle School is providing the second half of the training this year.

The middle school also uses Naviance, a program that was developed for high schoolers but now includes a middle school component. Designed to support students in individualized college and career planning, the middle school portion also helps students prepare for the transition to high school as well as prepare for longer-term goals.

Bednar is the president-elect of the Kentucky School Counselor Association. She lives in Edgewood with her husband. The couple is very active and enjoys running, hiking and traveling.

Ann Listerman

Highlands High School counselor Ann Listerman says, overall, her seniors are motivated and driven to succeed.

After four years as a counselor at Campbell County High School, Listerman said it’s exciting to be a new counselor at Highlands High School. Every school is different, she said, and since Highlands has a new principal, there are new ideas and expectations for everyone.

Because her position is an addition to the staff, "there are opportunities to grow and learn…We feel we will be able to see more kids and really hone in on particular issues or academics that maybe we weren’t able to address as closely as we can now," she said.

For example, she said she’d like to implement a school-wide social media awareness campaign this year. Students today have additional pressures due to what she terms a "a social media engulfed atmosphere…I don’t think you can ever educate students enough about the repercussions, the dangers of social media. You must always be on top of that."

Listerman’s assignment includes all students in grades nine to 12 whose last names run from "H" to "P." In this way, she stays with the same cohort of students for their entire high school careers. She has a caseload of about 400 students, including 89 seniors set to graduate this year.

Preparing seniors for the immediate future and beyond is a key role for all members of the counseling staff. "My goal is to meet every one of my seniors… to go through where they are in the college process or their future endeavors and to guide then, get them on a path."

One of her counseling peers, Trinity Walsh, has taken on a new focus as a college and career counselor, adding a new dimension of support for seniors, she said.

A large segment 81 percentof graduating seniors at Fort Thomas say they intend to go to a four-year college. Another eight percent say they plan to attend a two-year institution.
"Here at Highlands, with the population we have…our students have a lot of different schools on their radar," noted Listerman. "They are applying to schools all over the country. In Naviance, at the beginning of the school year, I tracked 36 of my seniors, and there were 36 colleges all across the nation they were applying to and looking into."

The different colleges have different dates, different requirements, so the challenge for her is to keep track of it all.

She adds that she also tries to spread the word with students who have shown talent for working hands-on about opportunities in the trades. The pay can be high and the need is great for plumbers, electricians and other careers. She says she wants to make students who might be interested aware of these additional opportunities.

In addition to college and career guidance, counselors at Highlands handle a wide variety of issues, including some that can be quite serious and adult. The school has implemented a resiliency poll to identify students who might need emotional or social support.

Listerman said she is familiar with the program and used it at Campbell County, yet, "I will say a majority of the time, we already have students on our radar... We already have things in place such as a safety plan, weekly check-ins, even daily check-ins."

One piece of advice she would give parents is to not be afraid of sometimes allowing your child to fail. "If they don’t fail, they’ll never know how to pick themselves back up again and be able to learn. You will not go back make the same mistake again. You will learn from it and become a better person and make better choices."

Listerman earned her bachelor’s degree in communications at Northern Kentucky University. She received a religious studies certificate from Thomas Moore. She taught for eight years at Holy Cross and, while there, earned a master’s degree in school counseling from Xavier University.

She is originally from Cincinnati, but she’s a full-fledged Fort Thomas resident now. Her husband, Kevin Listerman is a teacher and basketball coach at Highlands, and she has three children, all in Fort Thomas schools.

Overall, she says, the students at Highlands are highly motivated and driven to do well. "The community is also very supportive in so many different aspects…The kids’ energy is positive, exciting. They work hard. They want to do well, and that’s nice to see."

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