Capstone Essays

Madison Mosely, Freedom High School (’22)

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I had the pleasure of shadowing Fiona Brown, a Student Assistance Specialist (SAS) at Rock Ridge High School. As I am planning to work in the psychology field in the future, it was extremely meaningful to explore the role of a SAS on the United Mental Health Team.

Before beginning my Capstone, I can honestly say that I did not know Student Assistance Specialists existed. I would infer that most of my peers are also unaware of their presence, simply because it is not talked about enough. I learned a great deal about what their job entails and I believe it is imperative that students are aware of their presence in schools.. SAS’s are well-informed mental health resources, experts in substance abuse prevention and are confidential supports to students.

I completed three projects during this experience. First, I wrote an article about two middle schoolers who recently participated in the Step Up Loudoun competition to raise awareness of the Opioid crisis. I also made a virtual poster about healthy habits teenagers can practice during the summer to keep them away from substances. Finally, I helped create a presentation with recommendations to improve Advisory in high schools. I included what parts of Advisory are working well, what is not working well, surveyed peers for feedback, and developed ideas to change the culture surrounding advisory. I even had the amazing opportunity to share this feedback with Dr. Daniel Smith, the Chief of Staff for LCPS.

Working with my mentor and her colleagues as well as presenting to Dr. Smith has opened my eyes to professionalism and navigating a newfound independence. It was not as scary as I originally imagined. In fact, I felt comfortable from the very beginning. It was refreshing to be treated as an adult and have my ideas and voice valued in the community. When presenting my ideas for improving Advisory, the staff truly listened to my input. This taught me that my voice can make a difference and inspire others to act.

I am looking forward to the future, hopefully working as a psychiatrist, where I can hone these skills that I have learned. In fact, I am now inspired to work as a psychiatrist specializing in substance abuse cases. I will apply this introductory knowledge in my studies and I will be more prepared for the workplace after immersing myself in the professional environment of Student Assistance Specialists.

Written by Madison Mosely

 

Sean Lim, Stone Bridge High School (’22)

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“Capstone? What does that mean?” That was my initial reaction to a Senior Capstone Project. Donating a talent or finding a career interest, I have always thought of the project as a true step into the “adult world.” Even without a specific goal, I knew Capstone could be an opportunity to test myself in a larger world outside a classroom.

Then, I came across Student Assistance Services. Even though I do not plan on becoming a mental health specialist, I wanted to somehow be a part of this team. Although it was not visible to students, this team provides so many student mental health resources and has been supporting me and my peers all along. That awareness led me to approach Jennifer Evans, Supervisor of Student Assistance Services, for an opportunity to support this team.

My initial thoughts were not wrong. It truly was adulting. When I first came in, everyone asked, “So Sean. What do you want to do?” and I could not provide a good answer to that. With little understanding of the complexity of their jobs, my excitement soon changed to fear; my presence seemed like a burden. Initially, I thought with Loudoun County Public Schools operating for nearly 200 years, all systems for prevention and intervention would be in place. However, the team continues to improve and expand with new methods and solutions, needing more student feedback than ever for continuous progress.

Over the past four years, I have gotten so used to rubric-based assignments that I could not do anything without specific guidelines. The real world was nothing like that. I had to find what I wanted to do, how I wanted to approach the given task, and execute the task with my own method to satisfy the requested needs. It was like planning the lesson as a teacher, then completing the lesson on my own. With no tests and GPA to worry about, I tried a variety of formats to convey information in meetings, written reports, and slideshow presentations. Learning which method worked best for me to share my thoughts and ideas helped me take my first step beyond high school.

As I wrap up my Capstone project, I think of other departments within LCPS that are in need of student feedback. I now know the school system works as a team that needs a two-way communication bridge, and I hope students and parents are able to help with their school’s Unified Mental Health Team – it will benefit them back in some ways for sure.

Written by Sean Lim