Monday, November 28, 2016

Five Signs of Suffering

by Amanda Padden

On Friday, November 18th, I had the opportunity to attend an event for Guidance Counselors at The University of New Hampshire. I heard from current students, academic deans and admissions counselors and took a tour of the beautiful campus. I was also able to read two student applications to get a sense of how applications are reviewed at UNH. What I found most interesting about my visit was the time they took to talk about the well being of their students. I heard from the director of the counseling center on campus who outlined the emotional supports they offer as well as the outreach they do to educate their students about how to seek help for themselves or their friends. They showed us a document that is shared with all students called The Five Signs of Suffering. These signs are:
1. The person's personality changes
2. They seem uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated or moody
3. They withdraw or isolate themselves from other people
4. They stop taking care of themselves and may engage in risky behavior
5. They seem overcome with hopelessness and overwhelmed by their circumstances
The Medfield middle school and high school guidance departments had just presented the Signs of Suicide program to the seventh and ninth graders that week, so I felt great that Medfield students are going to college already knowing what signs of depression are and that it's reinforced at the college level. Another point that UNH made is that many students when they arrive at college struggle with decision making, solving problems on their own, and dealing with disappointment. I think this is an area the guidance department can impact in future classroom guidance sessions and parent seminars.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Social Power

by Russ Becker

Do you ever feel like your child just isn’t listening to you? Do you ever feel as if anything you say goes right over his or her head when they seemingly cling to every word from a friend or peer? Well if you happened to say yes, congratulations you now have something in common with every parent who has ever walked the face of the Earth. Teenagers appear hardwired to ignore every piece of meticulously crafted wisdom we as adults happen to pass on, instead focusing their attention on those they anoint as leaders in their own social circle. While this may be a never ending frustration at the hands of parents it certainly opens up the door for those designated social trendsetters to impart a great deal of positive leadership and example to our community as a whole. Last weekend, myself and a group of students took part in the Norfolk County peer leadership conference to better understand the impact these leaders have, and to how to use that social power to positively influence Medfield at large. Workshops included anything from discussing positive choices surrounding drugs and alcohol to leading a social movement against texting and driving. No matter the topic it was clear that these peer leaders have a great deal of opportunity to help our student body and the exciting piece was just how willing these students are for being an advocate of change. This conference made it clear that everyone has the opportunity to be a leader to someone else in their school and the more people who are willing to use that leadership constructively, the more capacity for change and social awareness our community will have.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Consistency and Maintenance: Thoughts from an Executive Functioning Conference

by Matt Marenghi

This past Tuesday, November 8th I had the opportunity to attend the conference "Beyond Lazy and Unmotivated: Practical Strategies to Boost Any Student's Executive Functioning Skills" with Dr. Peg Dawson. In addition to my role as Guidance Counselor, another hat I wear at Blake is being the Student Support Team Chairperson. This conference provided me an opportunity to hone my proficiency in both roles; understanding how neurological development affects students at varying rates and developing supportive interventions for those students who might be adversely affected by deficient executive functioning skills.

Executive Functioning skills can broken down into subsets that can range from 12 to upwards of 25 different "executive skills." It's important to note that the use of the term "executive" is not referring to organizational hierarchy (i.e. CEO), but rather the ability to literally "execute" tasks. Some of these "executive skills" would include: response inhibition; working memory; emotional control; flexibility; sustained attention; task initiation, planning/prioritizing; organization; time management; goal-directed persistence; and metacognition (self-evaluative skills).

It is understood that the capacity for the brain's executive functioning skills are located in the frontal lobes (just behind the forehead). Connecting that to the fact that we understand that the actual brain develops from the back to the front serves to rationalize why developmentally adolescents can struggle with skills associated with their frontal lobes -- these skills are in development. Anecdotally, Dr. Dawson remarked that this is why parents and educators must act as "surrogate frontal lobes" for adolescents who are significantly impacted by their executive functioning skills.

Managing executive skill weaknesses can be done by intervening at the environmental level or intervening at the level of the child. Strategies for modifying the environment should include 1. changing the physical or social environment, 2. modifying the tasks we expect the student to perform, and 3. changing the ways adults interact with the student. Strategies for intervening at the level of the child, or helping students figure out how to grow their own executive skills should include 1. the creation of a common vocabulary and a set of clear definitions, 2. helping kids see how people rely on these skills in everyday life, 3. teaching kids to assess their own skill strengths and weaknesses, and 4. helping kids generate strategies they can use to raise efficacy of their executive skills in situations that are important to them.

The complexities that come with issues relative to Executive Functioning are certainly vast and admittedly a bit daunting, so here is a more light-hearted video on the topic:

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Genderbread Person

by Anne Lodge

On October 28, 2016, I had the opportunity to attend a conference on Understanding Gender Identity: Working with Transgender/Trans* & Non-Binary Youth. The speaker, Sidney M. Trantham, Ph.D., was excellent. Dr. Thantham maintains a private counseling practice and is an Associate Professor of Counseling and Psychology at Lesley University. He provided an overview of transgender identities including trans*, gender non-conforming, gender queer and gender fluid identities. Trans* is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range and variation of gender identity, gender expression and those with fluid gender boundaries.

Gender identity is how a person thinks about themselves. It is not binary, but exists along a continuum, much like gender expression, biological sex, and sexual and romantic attraction. One particular graphic that Dr. Thantham shared of the Genderbread Person is helpful in depicting the wide range of ways that a person may self-identify. There is a lot to consider and this graphic provides a good jumping off point for better understanding gender. For even more information, I would recommend exploring as a good starting point.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Thoughts on a decade of SAT/ACT test day administrations

by Erik Ormberg

During an SAT administration there is a large number of moving parts that fly around in a flurry during the week prior and all morning during the test.  There is a madness and a method.  As the test coordinator for the past decade or so, I have witnessed some interesting trends and events.  
In the week leading up to the test, proctors are hired to work the 7:30AM--12:30PM shift.  One challenge about working in the SAT supervisor’s role is hiring a staff member to proctor the extended time room.  Students who receive accommodations through a 504 plan or IEP are allowed to apply for accommodations on the SAT or ACT.  If granted these accommodations the student must stay in the extended time room for the entirety of the test.  With the new parameters in place the extended time room students will start at 8AM and be dismissed around 3:15PM.  A majority of the students who take the SAT will finish around 12:30 or 1pm.
After identifying a solid group of about 15 detail-oriented, dependable proctors I have a pre-test meeting the morning of the sitting.  I talk to them about how nervous kids are in taking the test.  We talk about test security and checking IDs and random seating.  Proctors are told that if a phone goes off in the room the student has to be dismissed even if it’s a kid they know.  Collegeboard and ACT have specific expectations for proctors and we are obligated to follow their protocols.  During the 2015-2016 school year we were audited by Collegeboard.  They arrived at MHS, unannounced, asked us 40 security questions, took pictures of the test books and location of the tests.  
After the debrief proctors grab their exam books and answer sheets and set up their rooms for the test.
The true madness of the day is from 7:45AM--8:15AM.  Students who arrive late scurry off to the testing room, some are dismissed if they arrive after testing begins, others make it in the nick of time.  
The day concludes with a giant math test.  Making sure we have all answer sheets and booklets accounted for.  Checking and double checking head-counts, verifying what form to fill out if a kid leaves due to illness.  Packaging the test materials and filling out forms to send back to the test centers.  
One of my primary goals as test coordinator is to make sure all kids are in the appropriate rooms.  We have had issues with twins, parents registering themselves for the test instead of the student, students who do not have IDs or have a registration ticket for MEDWAY and drove to MEDFIELD instead.  We have had kids show up for an October test with their ticket for November.  The proctors do a great job with in-the-moment conflict resolution.  If the conflict is bigger than the moment they will send the student to me.
Every high school is an active place.  On test day there might also be a volleyball tournament going on along with Saturday school.  There have been times when they are using saws to cut wood for the set designs for the school play and the noise echoes down the hallway.
Every SAT sitting is a challenge of logistics.  Here are some trends I see:
  • October tests go smoothest.  Most of the test takers are seniors who are taking their second or subsequent test.  They know the routine and seem calmer on the whole.
  • The extended time room students have a long day.  8am--3:15 without a lunch break takes a tremendous amount of focus.
  • Weather and unexpected events have impacted test day.  Test days have been cancelled due to snow.  Make up dates are decided by ACT or Collegeboard.  MHS has no say in these decisions.
  • All families should anticipate scheduling conflicts.  Some testing dates conflict with tournament games, band trips, school travel abroad programs, etc.  Sometimes you can plan around these events, other times they become challenging “teachable moments,” and families need to make a decision between a test and another potential life experience.
  • There is always another test.  I try to explain this to students and/or parents that seem overwhelmed and do not appear “test-day ready.”  I know a lot test prep goes into some of these dates, but everyone has a bad day and should plan accordingly if that bad day arrives on the day of an SAT or ACT sitting.
In conclusion test day brings with it a feeling of accomplishment and concern.  I never want students to feel like their high school career is summarized by two or three tests that take place on three random Saturdays during their high school career.  Some kids don’t test well.  If they try hard in school and challenge themselves with an appropriate curriculum they will most likely leave MHS with plenty of options for college. Students’ best bet is a good night sleep, a healthy breakfast and a lengthy post-test nap.  

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Mental Health Resources

by Russ Becker

What a week for mental health! Over the past couple of days I found myself scouring various opportunities in search of more information and organizations teamed with improving our students mental health. I was lucky enough to attend two separate conferences this past week both with very different themes, that shared the same goal of improving and providing mental health services. One of these days I spent with the Riverside Trauma Center going through a suicide assessment and intervention training. Riverside has long served our community in regards to mental health and it was a fantastic presentation focused on the awareness and prevention of a problem that unfortunately affects all populations. The second event I had the chance to attend was the MIAA wellness Summit that enables both students and school staff the opportunity to see a series of speakers and connect with Massachusetts based resources that target anything from traumatic brain injury support to addiction training and rehabilitation. While planning out this blog post I had initially intended to go into detail with a number of the important messages I have received over the past week but I felt as if the information is far too vast and all encompassing to be broken down in a single post. Instead, one of the most remarkable pieces that I came away with was the incredible amount of support, interest, and emphasis that has been places on these issues that for far too long have been considered taboo for many communities. As a mental health professional, I have found that one of the biggest barriers to care is the Stigma tied to these struggles and the massive leap of faith affiliated with seeking out help. Events like the two I attended are doing a remarkable job at breaking down that stigma and opening up access to proper care and training for Massachusetts at large. With displays like these, students and staff alike are able to not just witness and experience the struggle that many people endure, but they are provided with proper resources and training to combat these issues. I certainly left these events with a renewed sense of progress and optimism, and it is easy to see how experiences like this can help much more people that maybe we had initially thought possible.

For additional information on mental health resources in our area, please go to our website:

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Alternate High School Options

by Jen Dondero

On Wednesday October 26th, the 8th graders visited Tri County Vocational High School. They learned about the many exciting vocational options available at Tri County. Some highlights included Engineering Technology, Early Education, Culinary Arts, Cosmetology, Graphics, and Medical Careers. interested students and families can attend an open house at Tri County on November 8th from 6:45-8:45. If you are unable to make the open house, there are tours of Tri-County, which are available to the public every Tuesday morning that school is in session at 10 a.m. Please call 508-528-5400 to schedule a tour. Students can complete paper or online applications ( and see Mrs. Dondero to send records to Tri County. Applicants will be interviewed at Blake, by Tri County representatives after their application has been reviewed. 

Students also listened to a presentation by Norfolk Aggie on October 26th. Students learned about The Diesel and Mechanical Technology Vocation, the Animal and Marine Science Department, and the Environmental Sciences Department. Students spend much of their time outdoors at the Norfolk Aggie working in a hands on environment. Interested students should see Mrs. Dondero for an application and contact the Admissions office at (508)-668-0268 if you have any questions.