MS School Counselor Blog
February 12, 2021
Dear Parents of Grade 6,
As the month of February is in full swing, I wanted to write you a quick note to keep you posted on what has been happening from a social/emotional perspective here in grade 6. As the middle school counselor at CIS, I have the great fortune to be teaching a number of counselling classes throughout the year. In grade 6, the classes have been focused on the following: learning the difference between being mean, rude, and bullying; types of aggression; speaking up when there is a conflict; how to be an upstander and report; and how to develop healthy relationships. We received some very important feedback from an anonymous survey that was conducted. When asked if they feel there is a bullying problem at CIS, 63 percent of our students said “No” and 37 percent of our students said “Yes” that they believe there is a problem with bullying at CIS. If the students answered “yes,” we wanted to know what type of bullying is the most prevalent. The following is the cross section of where the students believe we have issues.
As we can see from the above table, cyber bullying is the most common type of bullying that the students reported. Thus, it is important to continue to be vigilant about and monitor your child’s online presence. When I spoke to the group about the reason for this number being so high, they said it is generally around online gaming (Discord, Fortnite, and Grand Theft Auto), as well as inappropriate group chats (on both their phones and computers) that include relational aggression such as talking behind a person’s back, exclusion, and writing mean or toxic words. We will be using a reputable prevention education teaching resource from the Monique Burr Foundation. Their mission is: To protect children from bullying, digital dangers, abuse, and exploitation with comprehensive, evidence-based, prevention education programs. You can read more about it here. I have attached a parent letter from the organization to this email. It gives you some key pointers to have a successful conversation with your child and special activities that you can encourage to facilitate conversations.
We are super happy to report that not one student in grade 6 listed physical bullying as a problem at CIS. As we practice putting our kindness into action, we will be continuing to address the fact that verbal and relational aggression make up the remainder of the types of bullying that are occurring.
For your information, we wanted to let you know that in the coming month, we will be inviting a constable from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (RCIPS) to talk with your child about the dangers of online use (including sexting). We will be sending a separate letter home to parents with details of the date and more specific content of the presentation.
As always, please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s social-emotional well being.
Welcome Back from what we hope was an invigorating, yet relaxing winter break. We are so energized in the middle school as we now have our very own designated learning space. The students and staff have been buzzing with excitement. Despite many staff members moving locations, you can still find me, along with our middle school coordinator, Ms. Sarah Parham, in D5. Please know that our door is always open.
This week we welcomed a new family to CIS. Our committed student ambassadors took some time out of their winter holiday to give the new grade 6 and 7 students a tour and tell them a bit about our amazing community. Thank you to our student ambassadors for living our community principles each and every day.
January 8th, 2021
Shout Out to Student Ambassadors
I have noticed that Santa Claus was very generous this holiday season, with many of our middle school students receiving new devices. With this new opportunity comes great responsibility, both from not only the child, but also the parent. We understand that middle school is a time of immense change and uncertainty, it is impossible to pinpoint, predict or prepare for ALL the turbulence that may be ahead, but knowledge is power. With the new opportunities and freedoms of the online world, it is important for parents to stay educated and in tune with their child’s online activity in order to help keep them safe. Many parents have strict household rules including curfew, social restrictions and places their children are not permitted to go without an adult. Often, however, the online boundaries do not exist. Children are left to explore and socialize in their online world on their own. This is not the first time I have written about the trials and tribulations of managing our kids’ screen time. Here are some additional reminders to think about when your child is experimenting with and exploring their new device:
Ask your child to show you and teach you how to use the apps that they socialize with (one of the popular ones MS kids use to chat on their computer is called Pushbullet which is an app that allows students to send and receive SMS messages, send photos, files, links on their laptop. Snapchat continues to be popular and dangerous if used inappropriately)
Remind your child that WHAT GOES ONLINE STAYS ONLINE
If your child comes to you and shares something inappropriate, try your best not to overreact. Your reaction will determine if they are open to talking to you about things they are uncomfortable with or not sure about in the future. Try and listen and help guide them through the situation and provide support on how to handle it.
Thank you & I am here for you!
As we begin 2021, I want to say a sincere thank you for welcoming me into the CIS community. I feel so very fortunate to be working with such a special group of young adults. I understand one of the hardest undertakings to deal with as a parent can be watching the pain of social changes. During this time, kids are trying to fit in and experiment with their social power. This can be anything from friend groups changing to gaining “power” through establishing some sort of dominance. Unfortunately, name calling, dirty looks, or exclusion are common ways middle schoolers try to gain power. For the most part, these times are essential for you to listen and empower your kids to handle these situations in the right way- not a time for you to “fix”the issue for them. You can always remind them to visit their helpful school counselor :-) As always, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or concerns, or compliments.
Coming Up Next Week:
Social Emotional Skills to help Middle School Students THRIVE
December 11, 2020
The Middle School Leadership council is flourishing. We wanted to express our gratitude and say that we are very proud of our Protect Our Future Jr. team for organizing the middle school campus clean up last week. We feel so thankful to be part of such a caring and supportive community. Our students and staff were able to put our sustainability principle into action by working together to make a difference, beautifying our campus, while helping our world. We had more than 180 participants involved in the campus clean up. A big shout out and thank you to the middle school teachers who made sure everyone was on task. Thank you to Protect Our Future Juniors and their fierce and passionate leader, Lilly Langevin.
We are living in a world where we need to be hyper-vigilant about the fact that our children have easy access to illegal substances which can harm their development. Recently, it has come to our attention that teenagers on island are being exposed to a variety of foods that contain illicit drugs found in food such as brownies, gummy bears and rice krispie treats. Please take a few minutes to educate yourself about marijuana and teens. Here is a parent resource to help deal with some of the tips on discussing marijuana use with your child.
Many teenagers believe that marijuana is safer than alcohol or other drugs. When talking about marijuana with your child, it is helpful to know the myths and the facts. For example, teenagers may say, "it is harmless because it is natural," "it is not addictive," or "it does not affect my thinking or my grades." However, research shows that marijuana can cause serious problems with learning, feelings, and health.
December 4, 2020
Short-term use of marijuana can lead to:
- School difficulties
- Problems with memory and concentration
- Increased aggression
- Car accidents
- Use of other drugs or alcohol
- Risky sexual behaviors
- Worsening of underlying mental health conditions including mood changes and suicidal thinking
- Increased risk of psychosis
- Interference with prescribed medication
Regular use of marijuana can lead to significant problems including Cannabis Use Disorder. Signs that your child has developed Cannabis Use Disorder include using marijuana more often than intended, having cravings, or when using interferes with other activities. If someone with Cannabis Use Disorder stops using suddenly, they may suffer from withdrawal symptoms that, while not dangerous, can cause irritability, anxiety, and changes in mood, sleep, and appetite.
Long-term use of marijuana can lead to:
- Cannabis Use Disorder
- The same breathing problems as smoking cigarettes (coughing, wheezing, trouble with physical activity, and lung cancer)
- Decreased motivation or interest which can lead to decline in academic or occupational performance
- Lower intelligence
- Mental health problems, such as schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, anger, irritability, moodiness, and risk of suicide
At CIS in health class, our students study the dangers of drug use and the side effects on the teenage brain, resisting peer pressure, but it is always great to have the same message come from the home front as well.
For more information about marijuana, drugs, and teenagers, you can check out:
November 20, 2020
We have had a very busy month of learning and excitement here at CIS with so many interesting events and activities taking place on campus. Our student leadership have been super busy organizing the upcoming community dodgeball tournament that will take place on November 26. We had a wonderful turn out for our suicide prevention training last Saturday with 29 participants ranging from Grade 6-12. The mental health awareness group is now working on organizing the Gracious Givers project that will take place in the month of December. There are some students who have expressed interest in the training, but could not attend this weekend, so we will be running another training in March. More information on specific dates will be forthcoming. The sustainability section of the leadership team is working on our campus clean up that will happen on December 2. Our EC/ES mentorship program is well underway with 16 students signed up to visit and help our youngest members of our community, either at lunch or after school. Our grade 8 girls are getting excited to attend the slumber party party next Friday evening. We will be participating in a variety of team building activities throughout the evening and into the wee hours of the next day. These activities will offer them the chance to feel empowered, strong and together. We will be focusing on building each other up, rather than discouraging each other. We plan on watching a wonderful documentary called Finding Kind. More details will be sent home in the coming week.
Starting next week, I will be going into classes to talk about some of the challenges our students may be having related to social and/or emotional development. In grade 6 we will be talking about how to keep organized in a very different world from elementary to middle school. We will offer strategies that students can use to balance academics with their social life. In grade 7 we will be talking about being a positive contributor to our community by using respectful language. At the moment some of our students are using words such as “sus”, “symp” and “gay” as insults and we need to educate everyone that name calling goes against our kindness principle. In grade 8 we will be delving a little deeper into respecting others by using appropriate language. We will also talk about the negative impact that judgement and rumors have on a person.
As always, I am at your disposal to talk anytime. My door is always wide open and I am a phone call away.
October 30, 2020
Bully Prevention Month
Our Middle School Leadership (MSL) is now in full swing. This is an active learning experience for our enthusiastic students, as each week subcommittees meet at lunch to help make a positive impact on our school community. The MSL gives students an opportunity to develop leadership by organizing and carrying out school activities and service projects. In addition to planning events that contribute to school spirit and community welfare, the MSL is the voice of the student body. The House/Elements group is planning a middle school dodgeball tournament for November 17; the Events Management group is helping Mr. Jared plan the upcoming volleyball tournament on November 25; the Mental Health group have focussed on bully prevention month (see writeup below); our Sustainability group has planted trees on campus and is now going to plan a campus pick up event. The ES Mentorship Program has also begun with some of our passionate leaders working with the Early Childhood and Elementary school students during their lunches, as well as after school. We are very proud of the accomplishments and initiatives that our students have given their time and energy to support. A special shout out to our high school student mentors Lilly, Zoe and Ainsley for joining us each week for dynamic, enlightening conversations about empowering self, others and our community to be positive contributors at CIS.
The month of October is Bully Prevention Month. As Middle School Leaders (MSL), we are trying to raise awareness about the issue of bullying at Cayman International School. MSL has been discussing the issues that have been experienced by CIS students. We feel that students sometimes say hurtful things and use hurtful language, even if they aren’t doing it on purpose. Even if you are “just joking”, some people may not take it that way. We wanted to remind you to be careful with your words, and to always think before you speak. If you see something happen that you know isn’t right, stand up and speak out. Be an upstander, not a bystander.
We hope you had a happy October, CIS!
Prepared by Kylah Murphy on behalf of MSL
October 2, 2020
Keeping up with the ever-changing world of technology, social media, and internet
Technology, social media, and data protection in general are ever changing and unlike anything experienced in the past. Social media has forced us to merge technology and psychology with the invention of “emojis”,”influencers” and “likes.” Unfortunately, our children are facing a social media “addiction” where they are hooked on the cycle of engagement online. In early September, Netflix released a very thought-provoking, worthwhile documentary called The Social Dilemma which attempts to uncover one of the most significant advances in all of human history, the discovery of social media. Unfortunately, modern technology has pushed our minds in a different direction, thus modifying our behaviour. The film examines the various ways social media and social networking companies have manipulated human psychology to rewire the human brain and what it means for society in general. It is an eye-opening, jaw-dropping look at the world through the lens of social media.
We all know that since the invention of the internet, relationships are different now. The internet is making humans behave differently and engage in negative or unnatural behaviour. Social media manipulates our minds via a mechanical approach using algorithms to give an instant response, to catch negativity and amplify it. There is a section of the film that highlights statistics on depression, anxiety, and even suicide rates of teenagers that correlate with the rise of social media. It is clear that we are all spending too much time on our phones.
The documentary underscores the dangerous human impact of social media and recognizes that the world has become a darker place where humans are responding with fear or anger, and social media has created a civilization of tricking people. Computer philosophy writer and computer scientist Jaren Lanier describes social media as “dopamine farms that are changing your thinking.” Sadly, this generation is finding their worth through social media “likes,” yet we are worth so much more. How can we expect our students to find themselves? How can students find their worth when they're manipulated online? We need to empower this generation to know themselves, travel, and take breaks from social media, and we need voices to give perspective and try to think without manipulation. Research has proven that when a person goes off a screen, they become happier, have “me” time, and society becomes more peaceful. When we talk with people face to face, we connect, and people believe in facts, rather than conspiracy theories. We urgently need to send the message to our children that they are WORTHY!
If you would like to have further dialogue regarding this topic, my door is always open. Alternatively I can be reached via WhatsApp at 328-4408.
Until next time,
What is the Leadership Council in the Middle School?
We had a very busy week hosting our first leadership meeting in the middle school for the 2020-21 school year. We had a record number of attendees with 36 members at the lunch meeting. We are anticipating the exciting upcoming events that will be organized in the coming months. Middle School Student Leadership (MSSL) is composed of representatives from all grade levels in middle school. These students are asked to sign a contract that states that they will not only uphold their commitment to the leadership team, but also that they will be an ambassador for CIS and their family and represent the larger CIS community. The members of MSSL are also a liaison between the Leadership Council & their respective homerooms. Representatives meet once a week (Thursdays) as they plan and execute the events and activities listed below. We have identified five subgroups that members can sign up to be a part of (note: members can sign up for one or more subgroups).
Sustainability: Students sign up for this subgroup if they are interested in taking on projects that protect our planet and future. Initiatives such as beach clean ups, tree planting, building eco bricks, and taking part in school recycling are just a few examples of areas that we will concentrate on this school year.
Event Management: This subgroup works very closely with our Athletics and Activities Director, Mr. Jared. The event management team will be involved in helping with the special events that take place on campus. Some examples of areas of responsibility may be setting up tournaments, helping with score-keeping, organizing equipment, publicity, promoting and marketing events, and organizing school spirit events.
Elementary Mentor Program: This subgroup works with our younger students during free time (lunch, breaks and after school). Some initiatives that they will be responsible for may be, but are not exclusive of, refereeing soccer games, playing on the playground, reading to younger students, participating in art projects, and generally spreading kindness and helpfulness to our younger community.
Mental Health Ambassadors: This group of students will be participating in projects that attempt to reduce the stigma and raise awareness surrounding the importance of talking openly and honestly about mental health. They will promote healthy habits to the greater CIS community. This subgroup is fortunate to have the chance to work in partnership with our high school students who belong to the Alex Panton Foundation. The Alex Panton Foundation is a not-for-profit with the primary objective of raising awareness of mental illnesses affecting children and young adults in the Cayman Islands with a particular focus on anxiety and depression. They will also have the opportunity to participate in a suicide prevention training course.
Elements/House Events: Each of our homerooms has been assigned a specific element (air, water, fire, earth). These elements span across each of the grades in the middle school. This subgroup of leadership students will work closely with our middle school teachers and students to help continue to build a sense of community through fun team activities. Each of the activities will have an element of friendly competition between the different houses. Some of the activities may include trivia challenges, scavenger hunts, team games, intramural activities, school spirit challenges, and much more.
If students in Middle School want to participate in Leadership Council, they can sign up HERE. The next meeting will take place on Thursday, September 24 at 11:35am in the ARC.
Shining a light on suicide prevention
Suicide prevention remains a universal challenge. Every year, suicide is among the top 20 leading causes of death globally for people of all ages. September is suicide prevention month. All month, mental health advocates, allies, prevention organizations, survivors, and community members unite to promote suicide prevention awareness. More specifically this week, we are recognizing World Suicide Prevention Day created by the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP). Observed on September 10th every year, World Suicide Prevention Day (WSPD) provides the opportunity for people, across the globe, to raise awareness of suicide and suicide prevention.
Remember that nothing is more important than a person’s life. You can make a difference- as a member of a society, as a child, as a parent, as a friend, as a colleague or as a neighbor. You can raise awareness about the issue, educate yourself and others about the causes of suicide and warning signs for suicide, show compassion and care for those who are in distress in your community, question the stigma associated with suicide, suicidal behaviour, and mental health problems, and share your own experiences. How we communicate about suicide—both in the media and in prevention messages—makes a difference. Messages and images about suicide prevention can encourage hope and encourage people to seek help, celebrate life, and help people to understand that suicide is preventable and mental illnesses are treatable (save.org)
Social media can be a huge positive for many young people - banning it isn't the answer. We need to ensure young people feel they can safely talk to the adults in their lives about distressing things they have seen or heard without fear of punishment or losing access to social media. Recently, there was a very disturbing and graphic post on the social media platform, TikTok, where a person died by suicide in the video. Please talk to your child about appropriate and safe social media use. You can find some helpful tips for supporting your tween to have a safe online experience here.
What are we doing in the middle school @ CIS?
Health Class: One section of our grade 8 students are currently enrolled in health class and will soon be studying a unit on mental health. As part of the unit, each student will be making a 2 minute presentation on suicide prevention that they will share with the other grade 8 classes during flex time. They will also watch the short film called Step Closer: A World Suicide Prevention Day Awareness Film. Step Closer is a short film with a positive message encouraging connections and the idea that we all have a role to play in working together to prevent suicide. You can watch the two minute film here.
Suicide Prevention Training: We will be offering a suicide prevention training seminar. Participants will receive a certificate of completion. This free training provides tools a person can use to help people who might be contemplating suicide by recognizing the signs, bringing up the subject, and offering support. Sign up for Suicide Prevention Training HERE (please note that this training is available to our CIS community, including teachers, parents, and students).
Light a Candle: Each evening for the month of September, we are asking the CIS community to join the Light a Candle Campaign which was established to to show support, remember a lost loved one, for the survivors of suicide, and to raise awareness for suicide prevention. You can read more about the campaign here.
Dear CIS Community,
I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you to a new school year. My name is Andie Urquhart and I am thrilled to serve as the new middle school counselor at CIS.
The journey through middle school is truly exciting - it's complex, dynamic, fun, frustrating, enriching and wondrous, and it follows many different paths. I promise to be right alongside our middle schoolers to guide them through this transition from childhood to adolescence. This is my 25th year welcoming new families back to school from their summer vacation.
For some community members, the start of a new school year is exhilarating, yet for others, it may be a time of trepidation and worry. Emotions may be particularly elevated due to the impact of Covid-19. Hopefully your time spent at home during the pandemic allowed you some opportunity to pause for reflection, practice gratitude, and allow yourself a chance to follow your passions. Some may have enjoyed the break and found it relaxing. Others might have experienced a crisis - loss of financial security within the family, loss of a loved one, feelings of loneliness and isolation. Some experienced a mix of both.
It is critical to recognize that mixed emotions are normal. Following a pandemic, we need to learn new ways of being and living. With new safety protocols in place, our world is recovering and we are all beginning to heal. We are now in a position where we are approaching uncharted waters, having to start school with specific guidelines being implemented, yet we are able to join together again to learn at CIS.
As we begin the school year, it is important to keep in mind that knowing the facts helps reduce stress, so stay informed. Our strong community principles of kindness, partnership, sustainability, and good intent are wonderful reminders for all of us as we begin the new year. These are extraordinary times that we are living in right now. We don’t know what might be affecting someone’s life, making the current situation even worse (emotionally, physically, financially). Many of us are fortunate to have multiple connections to help us through a crisis, but loneliness and anxiety are still a concern.
We tell our students that if they need to, they should reach out for help. Be patient and kind with each other. Listen to one another, and remember that mental and emotional support is available to you. My door is always open, and I will work very hard to establish trust and rapport and to respect student’s privacy so that they are free to explore issues, feelings, and behaviours. If you have a question or concern, please feel free to reach out to me by email at email@example.com. I look forward to meeting you all in person very soon.
Middle School Counselor