Spotlights

School Counselor Profile: Silvana Alsamadi, Chapel Hill Elementary School

02/09/2018

Silvana Alsamadi

The way Silvana Alsamadi sees it… becoming a school counselor is the third act of her career. In Act One, she earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Towson University and worked long hours in hotel management. In Act Two, she married, raised three daughters, and managed a home. Act Three began six years ago when she became a school counselor for Baltimore County Public Schools.

It was Act Two that led her to Act Three. “I had always been interested in psychology and in helping people. But when my daughters were in school [in Pennsylvania], I wished I had gotten more guidance and support from their schools. I wish someone had been there sometimes to help point me in the right direction.”

From her experiences, Alsamadi began thinking that she could be of service to students and their parents. She knew that that would require going back to school.

“But I was in my 40s, and I thought it was too late,” Alsamadi says. “So I sat on the thought.”

At age 49, she stopping sitting on the thought and began working on a master’s degree in school counseling at Loyola University Maryland. She says that it wasn’t easy going back to school, but that she thinks it was good for her daughters to see her pursuing her dream.

A fast start to her counseling career

As she was nearing completion of the program and doing an internship at Perry Hall Middle School, one of the school’s counselors was about to go out on maternity leave. The school’s administrators were so impressed with Alsamadi that they sought and received special approval to hire her as a long-term sub. After earning her master’s degree and completing that assignment, Alsamadi moved immediately into two more long-term assignments as a substitute school counselor – at Oliver Beach and Norwood elementary schools. Then she secured a permanent position at Chapel Hill Elementary School.

Alsamadi’s warmth fills the book room that serves as her office at Chapel Hill. One side of the short hallway that leads into her office is covered with thank you notes and pictures from students. On the other side are a series of bright drawings to illustrate various emotions students might be dealing with. In the main section of the narrow room, colorful faux butterflies decorate the long white curtains that hide the books stored there. A rug and beanbag armchairs offer welcoming comfort for students. A table and chairs sit ready to accommodate students who come to participate in lunch bunches.

Alsamadi hosts one or two lunch bunch groups every day. One group she pulled together this month is designed to support a student who just transferred into the school. “Sometimes students are referred to a lunch bunch,” Alsamadi says. “Sometimes I identify students who I think will benefit from participating. The groups come together for many different reasons – to work on social skills, academic skills, help resolve conflicts...”

Empowering students to support each other

Providing counseling in groups or with individual students is one of Alsamadi’s favorite parts of her job.  As one of two counselors at Chapel Hill, she works with students in Grades 3 – 5, and she is proud that, in addition to receiving referrals from teachers, students more often refer themselves to meet with her.

“I think that the students here have a really good understanding of what a counselor does,” Alsamadi says. “There doesn’t seem to be any stigma attached to coming to see me. They feel safe and comfortable with me. They know that I am their advocate and that they can talk to me about anything.”

“One of the most satisfying aspects of my job,” Alsamadi says, “is when a child walks in my office crying and walks out calm and ready to get back to work.”    

“Our school counselor, Silvana Alsamadi, is a most vital member of our leadership team,” says Principal Jonná M. Hundley. “She has the innate ability to help our students in the areas of academic achievement and social/emotional development. It is such a joy to observe her working with our students each day! Having expert counselors like Silvana Alsamadi ensures that today's students will become our productive, well-adjusted global citizens of tomorrow.”

Life can be complicated – even in elementary school

Alsamadi says that her students face a wide range of issues, such as anxiety, family upheavals, friendship triangles, grief (especially the loss of grandparents and pets), worrying about grades, and figuring out issues of identity. “It seems,” she says, “that as some of the problems that were seen more often at the high school level are now seen at the middle school level, and some of the problems that were viewed as middle school problems now appear in elementary school.”

In addition to individual counseling with students and facilitating mediations to address conflicts, Alsamadi is a firm believer in the power of group counseling. Beyond the lunch bunches, she creates and leads groups based on students’ needs. One group that she offers every spring is for children experiencing changing families (often as a result of divorce). “Each group,” she says, “comes up with a special name for itself, based on what the students have in common. These groups are very healing and therapeutic. The students form lasting bonds. They discover that they are not alone in what they are dealing with. You can see them coming together and supporting each other, and by the end of the series of six to eight meetings, you see them modeling you as the group leader, using the strategies with each other that you have used with them. And then, even after the group disbands, the members remain an informal support network.”

Fully integrated into the life of the school

Alsamadi’s other responsibilities include teaching classroom lessons each month, doing classroom observations, writing reports, participating in IEP team meetings, doing bus duty every morning and afternoon, and consulting with the counselors at Perry Hall Middle School as her students prepare to transition there. And the list of her school activities goes on… She and Assistant Principal Julia Olmedo lead a book study on restorative practices for a group of 15 teachers. And Alsamadi chairs the school’s charities committee (which, so far this year, has held food and mitten drives) and co-chairs its multicultural committee (which uses bulletin boards and morning announcements to celebrate different cultures and organizes an annual career fair).

Alsamadi says that being a school counselor involves far more than she imagined. “Working in the schools for the past six years,” she says, I have so much more respect for teachers, counselors, and administrators. I see their dedication – working all hours. I am astounded by how generously they give of their own time and resources.”

Since becoming a BCPS school counselor, Alsamadi has completed the requirements to become a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor. “You put in at least 100 hours with a supervising counselor who is able to provide you with feedback and guidance. That benefitted my work immensely.”

When Alsamadi is not at Chapel Hill, she loves to spend time with her daughters, now ages 20, 21, and 25, watch movies, and travel nationally and internationally. Born in Italy, she and her husband visit there every few years. Not too long ago they went to Jordan, his family’s homeland.

Her other hobby? Reading. Especially books about counseling, cognitive behavior therapy, and psychology. She just finished a book titled “Overcoming Obsessive Thoughts.”

In other words, when Alsamadi is not at work, she uses part of her free time to continue learning, so that she can be of even more service to the Chapel Hill community.

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