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BHS Guidance Department Always in Proactive Mode

Oct 01, 2015 06:00AM ● By Pamela Johnson

BHS Guidance Director Dr. Janice Chiappone

written by KEN HAMWEY, Bulletin Staff Writer

The guidance department at Bellingham High School is unsung and unheralded, rarely ever experiencing any downtime, always striving to resolve issues, and continually in a pro-active mode to ensure success for all students. Dr. Janice Chiappone (right), who’s been the school’s guidance director for the last five years, and her staff of seven work diligently to carry out the department’s objective: for all students to experience academic success and to foster and help students stay mentally and physically healthy.

“Our primary functions are to assist students in college and career planning, to offer academic counseling, to help with personal and social counseling, to conduct testing and help with scheduling,” said Chiappone, who’s worked in guidance at Bellingham High for 17 years. “The fall is an exceptionally busy time because we’re working with seniors to map out their futures. We make sure their credits are checked, we write letters of recommendation, encourage topics for their college essays, and send out transcripts. We’ll have college nights for juniors and seniors where representatives discuss adjusting to college life and also how to apply for financial aid.”

Academic counseling involves keeping tabs on students’ progress in classes, how they’re performing on report cards, if they’re staying on top of their homework and if their scheduling is commensurate with their abilities. The guidance department often meets with parents to discuss any of these areas.

“Personal and social counseling deals with any issues that might affect a student’s ability to be successful in school,” Chiappone said. “Those issues might deal with anxiety, peer pressure, bullying or home problems.”

Chiappone’s department also handles testing and scheduling. Academic testing includes PSAT, MCAS and advanced placement exams. “Scheduling is important because we strive to get every student the right classes for his or her future,” Chiappone said. “The key is to start early, as freshmen, to determine their interests, best subjects and to learn what their dreams are. It’s also very helpful to match a student’s personality to a career. Not every student will go to a four-year college.”

Failing students also get attention. Lots of it.

“When we get that situation, we’ll ask about whether homework assignments are being completed and if the student is seeking extra help,” Chiappone said. “We’re also in contact with teachers and parents. We’ll ask for progress reports and follow up on a student’s improvement.”

The BHS guidance department consists of Chiappone, three counselors (Robert Devlin, Sarah Taglienti and Johnna Gorman), a school adjustment counselor (Jamie Stacy), a full-time mental health clinician (Mimi Auger), a part-time career specialist (Lynn Myatt) and a secretary (Dawn Salvas).

Chiappone’s department recently received a federal grant ($209,000 for three years) that will help students be successful in returning to school after an extended absence because of a medical or psychological condition. “The grant is labeled as Bridges for Resilient Youth in Transition (BRYT),” Chiappone noted. “A clinician and an instructional learning assistant (ILA) will work with a student for up to 12 weeks in a designated classroom to help them get course work completed and make sure they’ve adjusted well.”

The guidance department also presents a variety of programs to classes that focus on courses for the year ahead, college planning, timelines for necessary filings and talks dealing with transition to the high school for eighth- and ninth-graders.

Chiappone, who conducts staff meetings weekly, is constantly communicating with parents, the principal and the athletic director. “I’ll meet daily with the principal to discuss issues such as attendance, discipline, academics and mental health,” Chiappone said. “We meet with parents on a need basis to be pro-active on issues that could cause problems. We also work with the athletic director to determine student eligibility for sports participation.”

A native of Bellingham, Chiappone is a BHS alum who has degrees in counseling and psychology from Stonehill, Framingham State and the University of Maryland. She also completed a year’s internship at UCal-Berkeley for counseling and clinical psychology. Before joining the Bellingham staff, she first worked in counseling at an employment and training agency in Norwood, then was a counselor at Stonehill and the University of Maryland, and also taught classes in counseling while she was the assistant director of counseling and career development at John F. Kennedy University in Orinda, CA.

There’s little doubt that Chiappone and her staff are unsung. They’re in the trenches all day, every day, laboring to assist youths to find their niche and to overcome any roadblocks to academic success. “We want every student to have a plan for the future, and we meet with them all year long,” Chiappone said.
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