BABE #197: MARIXA LOPEZ SEILER; School Counselor, Duval County Public Schools
Marixa is a school counselor within the Duval County Public Schools system, where she serves around 870 students from pre-Kindergarten through 5th grade. Her day-to-day involves tackling the diverse, individual cases of the many students that come into her office, engaging with school staff and ensuring that her students, teachers and parents have the resources they need to cope, grow and succeed. Marixa’s incredibly important role is vital for today’s youth, and her empathy and genuine care for the students she serves gives us so much hope for future generations to come.
Hometown: Jacksonville, Florida
Current city: Jacksonville, Florida
Alma mater: University of North Florida
Degree: B.A., Child Psychology, M.A., School Counseling
Very first job: YMCA, YReads Program Assistant Director
Hustle: School Counselor, Duval County Public Schools
Babe you admire?
I admire my mother. She’s hardworking, intelligent, savvy and taught me how to be an independent woman. She is fierce, yet kind, giving and loving. I know she played a huge roll in my success because I can recall the time and effort she put into making sure I was always on track. She knew every deadline there was, for everything from elementary to high school. She’s also a spectacular grandmother to my daughter. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I could have handled the first year of motherhood without her.
Go-to coffee order and/or adult beverage?
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Açaí smoothie bowls with all the peanut butter and all the bananas.
What’s something you want to learn or master?
My father is from Panama. Although I have had tons of exposure to the Spanish language, I have yet to master speaking it. I want to one day speak fluently (hopefully in the near future).
Tell us about your hustle.
I’m a school counselor. Some people refer to us as guidance counselors, but school counseling has gone through reform, so the title of "school counselor" is preferred. Each day is different. Each school is different. My typical day will be quite different from many of my colleagues. It’s all about the climate and culture of the students, families and community. I’m the only school counselor at my school, and I currently serve around 870 students in pre-K through 5th grade. I work closely with students, teachers, administration and parents, as well as social workers, psychologists, other therapists and specialists.
What are the various "hats" that you wear throughout the day?
I counsel students individually when either a teacher, parent or self-referral is made for any type of need. If a student is having trouble coping with anger or anxiety, if a student has recently lost a loved one or a pet, if a student is having issues at home or with friends, I have an open-door policy where any student needing counsel may come to see me. The school counselor's office should be a safe place. I use student and school data to form small groups that run from six to eight weeks, where we follow a small-group curriculum for academic or social emotional support. The small groups I have commonly run are for students experiencing divorce or separation and students with low test scores and anger management. I also conduct whole-group class lessons on topics such as personal safety, bullying prevention and college and career readiness. I’m also the designee for meetings concerning exceptional student education services. I oversee the process and act as a liaison between parents and school and district staff. I am a counselor, a family advocate, a mentor and an educator, and when a situation is out of my scope I refer out to other agencies. It sounds like a lot, but it’s really just the name of the game in the public school setting. Teachers and other staff wear so many hats as well.
What does your typical workday look like?
I arrive, and if I don’t have a morning parent-teacher conference or IEP meeting to attend I sip my coffee and prep my calendar for the week. I read emails and respond. I walk around as students enter to say “hi” and check on particular high-need students. I sometimes take the morning to chat with my officemate, the school’s speech language pathologist (with whom I collaborate frequently). From there, the school day begins at 8:30 and I’m all over the place. (See above for a list of possible places to find me after the bell rings.)
What are the counseling theories or approaches you most closely follow?
Eclectic/Integrative Theory (taking the thoughts and strategies from multiple theories and applying them to counseling depending on each person's needs). School counselors often use a solution-focused brief counseling approach, as we’re not clinical therapists and are bound by time in the school setting. We also use play-therapy, art therapy and bibliotherapy in addition to talk therapy. I also integrate yoga and meditation in my counseling program whenever I can (as a de-escalation tool or a proactive coping mechanism).
How do you build trust and relationships with students while maintaining the necessary boundaries?
I’m so real with these kids! I believe children (and adults) love when someone is genuine. I learn about what the person likes, let them speak, reassure them (but be realistic and don’t patronize), be firm yet kind when they need tough love. I mean a lot of times I have to remind myself although this all seems like common sense to me, to some it’s not. I model behaviors for my students and I meet them where they are. I am transparent with them so they know I’m their counselor first, and there are still guidelines I have follow to keep them safe.
How do you keep a healthy balance when it comes to not bringing your work home?
Before I had my daughter, I would stay at work way past contract hours and take work home with me often. Honestly, I’m still a work in progress in this area, but I try to “practice what I preach.” I enjoy yoga, meditating, and venting to my colleagues. I want my daughter to get the best of me—not what’s leftover after work—so I’m intentional about leaving my laptop at home and taking a walk, riding bikes or jumping on the trampoline with her right after I pick her up. Sometimes I cry. It’s a very emotional job. Ninety percent of the time I’m so mentally drained from work I just need a good cry and/or nap. I just try to honor my feelings and remind myself I’m human.
Thoughts on our education system? What would you change about it, and what can we do to help?
Tough question; honestly one of the only ones I wanted to avoid answering. As a school counselor the expectations for me are very different than for the classroom teachers. I know for a fact though that our schools need more help in and outside of the classroom. We need more money and we need more resources. We need more quality mental health services in our schools, and we need more passionate caring teachers. It feels like a sick joke that we still need all these things. I don’t have much more to say that’s not already being said over and over about what’s lacking in our education system. I can probably add that we need to lower the student-to-counselor ratio, a common concern for school counselors. We need more elected officials in our corner and we need more understanding. The Women’s March rally I attended in January was really empowering, and I saw this popular quote that really resonates: “Here’s to strong women. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them, may we vote for them.”
How have your past internships, education, and work experiences prepared you for the work you do?
I learned a great deal from every educational experience I’ve had, and find that they have all helped shaped me as a school counselor. I worked with school-aged children with learning difficulties at the YMCA, interned with the ESE teacher of a charter school, volunteered at Hope Haven and Alden Road Exceptional Student Center in undergrad. In those experiences I had the exposure to various age groups and needs, and learned how to navigate the educational setting. In grad school I worked with students in an after-school college readiness program mentoring a highschooler. I was able to apply the skills of counseling while we discussed teenage life and going off to college. Graduate school taught me child development and counseling skills, however, the public school system expects a lot more from school counselors than just that. It takes time to really learn all that comes with the job, a lot of which have nothing to do with what we were taught. Sometimes the easiest part is the actual counseling because it’s what I really love and I’ve really crafted.
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
I feel like my feminism drives me to be a better counselor and to really fixate on injustices. I try to empower my students to lead with love and set the expectation of kindness. I’m also hyper-aware of people's insecurities and the social-emotional needs of many of my female and minority students.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
My female professors Dr. Stone, Dr. Schumacher and Dr. Maxis inspired me all through grad school. They were so passionate about inspiring us and inspiring students and about cultural competency and equality. My field, as well as the education field as a whole, is largely made up of women. I look to a lot of my female colleagues for inspiration and guidance and reassurance frequently.
What advice would you give to a babe trying to break into your industry?
Do your research; make sure you shadow a bunch of counselors and educators before jumping into a program. I don’t mean to sound negative, but I know far too many unhappy school counselors and those who have left the field after hitting a wall too many times. It’s very rewarding, but also very overwhelming.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Do what you love and stand up for what you believe in. Practice good self-care, meditate and love yourself! I don’t want to sound too cliche, but it’s taken me way too long to love myself and become confident in my abilities. I would love to see more fearless babes attacking their goals and dreams and loving themselves unapologetically.
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