AACPS Student Services Team Serves Children Of All Needs Behind The Scenes


In addition to the thousands of teachers, administrators and others who work daily to educate over 84,000 students in Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS), there is a lesser-known team of individuals supporting students in every school who help them overcome barriers to achieving success.

AACPS’ student services team consists of over 440 staff members who serve as school counselors, psychologists, social workers and pupil personnel workers, all with the common goal of coming alongside kids and their families.

Ryan Voegtlin, AACPS director of student services, explained that there are over 250 school counselors across the county – at least one at every school – who teach lessons on social skills, college and career, and other topics. They provide individual counseling for mental and behavioral health issues, and work with families to connect them with support outside of the school.

Shari Endo has been a school counselor for 26 years and serves as the counseling department chair at Severna Park Middle School (SPMS). She explained that SPMS has a counselor for each grade level, and that she also supports students with special education needs as well.

“When they say it takes a village to raise a child, I feel like it takes a village to service kids in a school,” she said, noting that her team of counselors works closely with the special education department, school nurses and other student services team members.

For classroom situations requiring greater behavioral intervention, school psychologists are available at every school and are able to provide de-escalation support. School psychologists are also key members of the special education team, Voegtlin noted, as they conduct educational assessments.

At Windsor Farm Elementary School, 20-year veteran school psychologist Kate Howlett said she overlaps with the school counselor by providing counseling services, facilitating crisis intervention, and leading student groups on topics such as social thinking.

Working with elementary-age children, Howlett strives to engage with students through games, hands-on activities and crafts in her counseling sessions. “It’s about connection with kids – having that connection where the student knows (that) even if you’re giving them feedback that they don’t want to hear, that you care about them, and that you value them, and that their feelings and their thoughts are important even if you disagree with how they handled a situation,” she said.

For students needing additional support outside of the school facility, social workers and pupil personnel workers come alongside families by connecting them to community resources and helping them with essential needs.

Social workers – of which there are about 60 in the county – are licensed clinicians who provide both individual and group student counseling services and support for their families. “They really work connecting families to outside resources, mental health resources, food, clothing, health care access – any of those things that are barriers to learning, they’ll be that connection to help families overcome those barriers by giving them access to resources,” Voegtlin said of AACPS’ social workers.

Kate Hicks, who has worked in schools since 2011, is a social worker at SPMS and Severna Park High School (SPHS). “I would encourage families that are having difficult times to reach out to the school and communicate what they need, because there are people out there that can connect them to resources,” she said. “We’re here to help.”

Working closely with school social workers, AACPS’ 35 pupil personnel workers (PPWs) focus primarily on students facing challenges with attendance, residency, custody and homelessness, but they also connect families with needed resources such as food and clothing as well.

“People think the Broadneck cluster is free of poverty and free of homelessness, but we do have families experiencing those things right here in the Broadneck cluster,” said Allison Mathews, who has served as the cluster’s PPW for nine years.

She explained that she operates a Severn River Middle School clothing closet that is stocked with clothes, shoes and blankets donated by churches and other entities. Along with Broadneck High School’s social worker, Mathews also started a food pantry where families come once a month for staple foods and receive fresh produce and meat that are purchased through funds raised by the high school’s sports teams and clubs.

Magothy River Middle School PPW Kim Perillo shared a success story of a family experiencing homelessness. Perillo’s team was able to help that family get into a home. She explained that she and other PPWs also partner with organizations including Happy Helpers and HOPE For All that assist families in obtaining food and home furnishings, respectively.

“This is a wrap-around community – you let them know there’s a need, and people from the community, the PTO (parent teacher organization), the staff members of the schools – they will wrap their arms around a family so tight, and it’s beautiful to see,” said Perillo, who is now in her 22nd year with AACPS.

Gwen Henderson, PPW for the Severna Park cluster schools since 2011, also expressed enthusiasm for contributing to students’ success. She counts it a win when a student who had faced challenges graduates.

Henderson spoke to the faulty perception that people in Severna Park and on the Broadneck peninsula don’t have significant needs, acknowledging the stigma that can come with asking for help. “There is no judgment,” she emphasized. “We want to help students and their families.”

Voegtlin praised the entire student services team, stating they are doing amazing work to support families in Anne Arundel County.

Quick to applaud their colleagues, the Severna Park and Broadneck student services members agreed that student success is a team effort. “It really does take a village to collaborate and support kids and make school as successful of an experience as possible for them,” Howlett said.


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