County school counselor deemed award winner

Adviser: Local recognition means Susan Castelbaum is in the running for a statewide honor.

July 31, 2002|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Last year, Susan Castelbaum joined a committee to create the Howard County School Counselor of the Year Award. As she helped describe the qualities of an exceptional guidance counselor, Castelbaum did not expect that she would be among the county winners.

"I love being a counselor, but getting the recognition for it was just a really nice honor," said Castelbaum, a counselor at Hollifield Station Elementary. She and three other winners were acknowledged at an April awards ceremony. Castelbaum has been nominated as a possible Maryland School Counselor of the Year.

A counselor in Howard for 13 years, Castelbaum worked at four schools before her current job. She has been at Hollifield Station for five years and has seen the school's population nearly double, growing to more than 800 students. As a full-time counselor, Castelbaum serves children and their families, conducting guidance groups on such topics as divorce, anger and stress management, as well as providing individual counseling.

"She can relate to the students," said fifth-grader Mahila Amjad, 11. "She lets you figure it out in your own way, the way you want to do it. She's done quite a lot for us, [such as] peer mediation if you have problems during recess."

Lisa Boarman, facilitator of school counseling for the county, said, "One of the things about Susan is that she puts together a comprehensive counseling program. She covers all aspects of what a counselor should do.

"And so she does a really good job of meeting the needs of staff, students and parents."

As the school year closed, Castelbaum prepared the school's 143 fifth-graders for their move to Patapsco Middle School. They played a Jeopardy! -style game she called "Middle School Mania."

The game is "a fun way of learning about middle school and a lot of the anxieties they have, like lockers," Castelbaum said.

The youths learned about the Patapsco Homework Hotline, where they can get assignments from the Internet. There were questions about which classes meet daily, when they can go to their lockers, and whom to ask for help if they become lost on the way to class.

A.J. Pilgrim, 11, said, "She comes in once a month to every class and she talks about things that are going on in our lives." He said that Castelbaum will show a movie or create a game on the topic that class members are learning about.

When Maryland began its "Character in Education" program, Castelbaum worked to adapt the state's character education values to the needs of her school. She led an initiative to create a custom program for Hollifield, rather than buying a pre-made curriculum. "That's what we're really proud of," she said.

"It certainly has been a magnificent program in our school," said Hollifield Station Principal Glenn Heisey. "If she hadn't led that [program], we wouldn't have it at the school."

Before taking the position at Hollifield Station, Castelbaum worked part time.

"I don't [know] how a counselor with all the pressures of society can do a good job just part time," she said. A counselor is assigned to every 600 students in Howard County, but the American Association for Counseling and Development says that ratio should be 250-to-1.

"On 9-11, everyone was looking for the counselors and the psychologists, but many weren't in," Castelbaum said, because most schools have only a part-time counselor. She added that it is difficult for counselors to follow up with children who are having trouble if they do not see their pupils daily. "When the children are looking for us, we're not always in the building."

The Howard County Association of Counseling and Development instituted the Counselor of the Year Award in the 2001-2002 school year. Castelbaum, who was on a committee to help develop criteria for the award winners, was nominated by Hollifield's administration. Three county guidance counselor supervisors acted as the judging panel. Castelbaum tied with another counselor for the elementary-level award.

Counselors of the Year

Elementary School: Susan Castelbaum, Hollifield Station, and Janet Quirk, Fulton

Middle school: Mary Mesterharm, Mayfield Woods

High school: Mary Margaret Kamerman, Long Reach

Information or a nomination Packet: Lisa Boarman, 410-313-6748. The next counselor award process begins in February.

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