Jessica Taylor is a 2nd year graduate student at the University of Georgia pursuing her masters degree in Professional Counseling. After graduating from the program in May 2019, Jessica plans to work in a family-oriented school setting where she aims to prepare students for college and career readiness as a school counselor. Jessica shared that she is inspired to make a difference through supporting, advocating, planting seeds, and fostering safe places for students to share, process, explore their emotions. Her eyes lit up as she stated, "seeing my student learn to cope, preserve, and gain deeper insights motivates me to show up every day and meet each student where they are." Her dedication is admirable, her mission is commendable, and her goal to become school counselor of the year is aspirational.
Before graduating and becoming the student advocate every school and community needs, Jessica shared her personal and professional journey to discovering her purpose.
Why did you decide to be in the helping profession?
I am the daughter of two social workers and have always envisioned myself helping others. When I was younger, I dreamed of becoming a nurse like my grandmother and helping others to heal their wounds. I graduated from high school as a Certified Nursing Assistant. After Thomson High School, I went out of state to attend Alabama A&M University on a tennis scholarship majoring in Biology. In undergrad, I joined different service organizations, which opened my eyes to education and working children and adolescents. Next, I applied to be a college advisor with the Georgia College Advising Corps. I worked with first generation, low- income, and underrepresented students and families. I have helped students apply for colleges, FAFSA, and scholarships. Through this role, I also helped students with the academic and social-emotional challenges that impacted their academic performance.
What clinical population are you most interested in working with? Why?
I would love to work with all children and adolescents. I enjoy helping and connecting underserved and low-income students and families to resources.
Where is your clinical placement?
I am currently placed at Pharr Elementary (PK- 5) for my internship in Gwinnett County. We are a Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) school. We serve about 690 students in the Grayson cluster within the Gwinnett County Public School System. 41% of our families met the need for free or reduced lunch. Our school demographics are: 7.1% Asian/ Pacific Islander, 0.1% American Indian/ Alaskan Native, 38.5% Black, 18.3% Hispanic, 7.4% Multi-racial, and 28.6% White. It is important to highlight that 18.1% of our students are English learners.
What is your title at your placement? What are your responsibilities at your placement?
I am a School Counseling Intern at Pharr Elementary. As an intern, I meet with my students and address academic, social-emotional, and career needs through individual meetings, small groups, and classroom lessons. I am currently running small groups for Mindfulness, Decision Making, Divorce, and Study Skills/ Habits. I actively attend Student Support Team (SST) meetings for students on my caseload. The SST team consists of a teacher, administrator, counselor, and school psychologist. The team collaboratively addresses academic, medical, behavioral, emotional and/or other problems which may interfere with a student's ability to obtain an appropriate education.
What are a few important things you have learned at your placement?
I have learned the logistics behind running a comprehensive school counseling program. In collaboration with my supervisor, I have been afforded the opportunity to plan upcoming events, lessons, and counseling calendar. My placement has trained me on the district's protocol for suicidal ideation and child lures through professional development. I feel extremely supported and empowered to handle a range of issues. Pharr Elementary has taught to collaborate and communicate with teachers, parents, stakeholders, and community leaders.
How has the field of health psychology helped you at your placement?
I integrate health psychology into every facet of my position. I sit in on the Student Support Team, Individualized Education Program (IEP), and 504 Plans' meetings. These integrated teams take a holistic approach to the students' academic success, modifications, and accommodations. I have also been able to incorporate health psychology into my mindfulness small group, where I teach students how to be aware of the here and now through breathing and calming techniques, provide psychoeducation on the negative effects of stress and easy to apply stress management strategies.
What will your master's thesis/dissertation be on?
I am working on an internship project for my master's program. For my project, I am focusing on test anxiety within the elementary level. I aim to increase the number of counseling lessons on study skills, psychoeducation on the effects of testing, and coping strategies. I have a goal of meeting with 100% of the 5th-grade classes, delivering counseling lessons on test anxiety to 5th-grade homerooms, and developing resources for families.
What do you do for self-care? How do you take care of YOU?
I have found a new love for dog parks, coloring, and meditating. Recently, I like playing with my new puppy, Rudy. I am appreciating the fresh air and moments to interact with other dog parents. Coloring is an old hobby that I have picked back up after taking an expressive art class. Also, I have recently been practicing yoga and meditation to center myself and to adopt informed mindfulness facilitation.