Theresa Dethlefsen is the resource counselor at Northwest High School, Germantown, and was selected Montgomery County Public Schools 2012 Counselor of the Year. She was interviewed at Northwest on Sept. 27.
Can you tell me about your job as a school counselor? Were you ever a classroom teacher?
I was never in the classroom. My goal was always to work with adolescents and I wanted to work in schools. I worked in group homes for adults but that was not where I wanted to be and I interned in an elementary school. They were darling but adolescents are what I wanted.
Why is that?
I did not have a great upbringing. My mom got really sick when I was in high school. She was in and out of the hospital so I had to raise myself, keep my grades up and go through the college process on my own. I tried to hide it but eventually my grades began to drop and a counselor called me in, and I broke down. He was great. He helped me through the college process.
I noticed in your answer to Lessons to Live By you wrote: ď...I want the students I work with to know things can be hard... .Ē Do you share your story with them?
We have a lot of students with a lot of difficult issues. If I see they can be helped by it, I tell them.
I donít say I know. I havenít walked in their shoes, I havenít been through what they are going through.
What goes on in a high school counselorsí office?
Itís amazing what kids tell you. We try to talk to our at-risk students regularly and donít want to forget the others. I really encourage the counselors to focus on the ďmiddle kids,Ē so they know we are here. We [also] help the seniors with the college process. We have 520 seniors and eight and one half counselors.
What do most of the kids use counselors for?
Grades are a huge issue. Then we have the social emotional, like peer pressure and bullying.
We deal with a lot: sexual abuse, bullying, pregnancy, thoughts of suicide. Another big thing is death. We deal with a lot of grief. We run a grief group and have for many years.
You also get some wonderful things that occur. Itís nice to see growth. Something might happen in ninth grade and you work things through and then they become seniors and go off to college.
A lot of the time students just drop by. We start in ninth grade to grow a relationship. We talk to them and let them know we are here for them.
If siblings come through you get to know them and the families work with us too.
But we do have an open door policy for any counselor. You can talk to anyone anytime. We [the counselors] really do work well as a team.
Tell me about being named Counselor of the Year.
Mrs. Dempsey, my principal, put in my name. Itís only been offered for two years. Iím the second to get the award. Itís recognition, and thatís nice. Northwest is getting the recognition. Itís a great honor. Itís something I hope all counselors achieve.
Is there anything the school does not provide students that you think should be covered?
Many students need more time to get ready for college. It would be nice if we could provide a [separate] counseling class where they can learn goal setting and about college and career. I think every student should have the opportunity to hear whatís out there.
Now we go into classrooms and take the teachersí time. We want to go in there and get them pumped up.
Our goal is to start with ninth-graders to have students look a college and careers.
Is that a Montgomery County Public Schools goal or one for your department?
Itís definitely an MCPS goal but I think itís great for kids to know whatís out there.
Complete this statement: The perfect high school would have...
Fifty to 60 students per counselor. Now counselors have about 300 kids on each of their caseloads.