Guthrie excels at helping students get to school and stay there Westminster pupil personnel worker honored

July 12, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

The image of a burly truant officer dragging a protesting teen by the collar is about as outdated as going home for lunch.

Instead of a truant officer, Carroll County schools have "pupil personnel workers," and one of them has won state recognition for the work she does trying to help students and parents overcome whatever might get in the way of going to school.

Barbara Guthrie of Westminster was given the annual award by her peers in the Maryland Association of Pupil Personnel Workers. She was nominated by Westminster High School Principal Sherri-Le Bream.

"The major goal of a truant officer was to get kids to come to school," Mrs. Guthrie said. "Our whole purpose is to try to get students to be more successful in school."

Principals who work with Mrs. Guthrie say it's just like her to putthings in positive terms.

"She's a person who comes away with a win-win situation," said Michael Bell, assistant principal at West Middle School. "Everybody's dignity is intact when they leave."

When students start missing a lot of school because they can't keep up with the class, or they're teased about their looks or some other matter, principals call in pupil personnel workers. Mrs. Guthrie is assigned to Westminster High School, West Middle School and the Carroll County Career and Technology Center.

She meets with the students and their parents -- at home, if

necessary.

"You can't just pick a kid off the street and put them in school, because they'll be truant the next day," she said.

She helps students and their families get help from community agencies such as the Department of Social Services, Juvenile Services, and drug- and alcohol-abuse agencies.

For the infrequent times when parents won't do their part to get their children to school, Mrs. Guthrie works with the state's attorney's office to impose the $50-a-day fine or prison term, or both.

"We have all kinds of conferences before we get to that point, to try to turn things around," Mrs. Guthrie said. "We have just started, in the last two years, implementing that law that has always been on the books."

In some cases, Mrs. Guthrie has recommended the Alternative School near the Westminster airport for teens who simply would not have finished regular high school.

The Alternative School, for example, this spring graduated a girl who two years ago spent September sitting at home, waiting to turn 16 so she could drop out of school. School had become a painful place for her because of teasing from fellow students.

"I told her about the Alternative School, and I talked with her father, and she agreed to try it," Mrs. Guthrie said. The girl attended every day and earned honor-roll grades.

Mrs. Guthrie, 42, grew up in Manchester and graduated from North Carroll High School. She received bachelor's degrees in social work and psychology from Western Maryland College in 1971, and a master's degree in special education there in 1975.

She started out in Carroll schools as a special education resource teacher for three years before becoming a guidance counselor at North Carroll High for 10 years.

In addition to and as part of her job, Mrs. Guthrie also was on committees that began new programs, such as the crisis teams that deal with a death in the school community, and the student-assistance programs that help intervene early when students show signs of substance abuse.

The crisis teams, from which Mrs. Guthrie is taking a break this year, were being formed in 1987 to address suicides. Before they finished plotting their course, a Carroll County teen-ager was murdered.

"So we just put our pens down and went," Mrs. Guthrie said. At the time, she was still a counselor. She moved to her current job a year later.

The teams now respond whenever the death of a student, teacher or parent, or some other crisis, affects a school. In addition to working in small groups with students who are upset, they counsel staff members on dealing with the students, as well as with their own grief, she said.

"I think suicides are the most difficult, because you have the potential risk of other students commiting suicide," she said. "A lot of students feel guilt -- 'Was there something I should have done? Could I have prevented it?' It's just very hard to work through that with a young person."

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