OCDE’s virtual counselor symposium encourages local educators to reset and recharge

“Reconnecting, resetting and restoring” was the theme of the 2021 Orange County Virtual Counselor Symposium hosted Nov. 10 by OCDE’s Educational Services team.

Drawing nearly 600 K-12 and community college counselors, along with district administrators, site leaders and support staff, the symposium featured well-known speakers and a wide variety of breakout sessions on topics including how to build resilience, systems and practices to support students with elevated needs, and establishing trauma-sensitive school environments for all students.

“School counselors play a critical role in helping students not only achieve academic success. They are their students’ advocate when they need a voice, active listener when they need nurturing, and the compass when they need direction and guidance,” said OCDE K-12 School Counseling Services Coordinator Luz M. Arellano. “Acknowledging the challenges brought forth by the pandemic, this year’s symposium really focuses on the tools and strategies to help our counselors reconnect, restore and recharge.”

Shawn Achor, positive psychology researcher and author of “The Happiness Advantage,” was one of this year’s keynote speakers. He addressed the science behind his research and how adopting a positive mindset can help restore a culture of confidence not only in counselors and administrators but the students and families they serve.

“By changing our mindset and habits, we can actually dramatically change the course of life, thus improving intelligence, productivity, the quality of our lives, and every single education outcome,” he said.”

Dr. Christine Olmstead and Shawn Achor
Dr. Christine Olmstead and Shawn Achor converse during a breakout session at the 2021 Virtual Counselor Symposium

Achor also took part in a question-and-answer session titled “Resilience is about how you recharge not how you endure.” Led by OCDE Interim Chief Academic Officer Dr. Christine Olmstead, the session walked attendees through the power of recharging and training the brain to be positive by adopting simple habits that can send ripples of change through school communities.

The event concluded with a second keynote from Leadership & Learning Institute Founder, President and CEO Dr. Adolph Brown, III. During his presentation, Brown discussed the importance of self care, self reflection and challenging the brain when it comes to human interactions. He reminded educators that students may not have the capacity to “unpack their backpacks” and to not give up on them.

“Life stuck things in my backpack that were awfully heavy,” Brown said. “Give everybody the benefit of the doubt because everybody is carrying something you know nothing about unless they unpack it for you.”

The symposium was held in coordination with the Los Angeles and Orange County Regional Consortium of community colleges, OC Pathways, California Community Colleges and the Future Built Orange County Career Education initiative.

The occasion also offered a chance to celebrate a handful of local counselors and advocates, including OCDE Director of Learning Supports Dr. Jami Parsons, who received the 2022 Advocate of the Year award from the California Association of School Counselors.

Here is a breakdown of this year’s additional honorees:

2021 School Counselor Recognition Awardees

  • Veronica Alvarez from Savanna High School, Anaheim Union High School District
  • Robert Stelmar from Brea Olinda High School, Brea Olinda Unified School District
  • Jessica Sandoval from Marco Forster Middle School, Capistrano Unified School District
  • Laurie Tristan from MacArthur Fundamental Intermediate School, Santa Ana Unified School District
  • Julie Chutuk from Kinoshita Elementary School, Capistrano Unified School District
  • Rosy Chavez from Ponderosa Elementary School, Anaheim Elementary School District

2021 School Counselor Advocate Awardees

  • Jenni Thai, Counselor on Special Assignment from Capistrano Unified School District
  • Nicol Jones and Kathryn White, Officers of Parent Teacher Student Organization from Cerro Villa Middle School in Orange Unified School District

2021 Community College Counselor Awardees

  • Eileen Tom from Orange Coast College
  • Michael Engels from Saddleback College
  • Robert Melendez from Irvine Valley College