Ebb Valley Elementary School counselor Lisa Spera plays a game with fourth graders that teaches the pittfalls of making quick assumptions Wednesday, Dec. 9 in Manchester. Spera was chosen to represent Maryland for the 2016 National School Counselor of the Year program.
Ebb Valley Elementary School counselor Lisa Spera plays a game with fourth graders that teaches the pittfalls of making quick assumptions Wednesday, Dec. 9 in Manchester. Spera was chosen to represent Maryland for the 2016 National School Counselor of the Year program. (DAVE MUNCH/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

Ebb Valley Elementary school counselor Lisa Spera sat with a group of third-graders last week teaching them how to react in a social situation if something doesn't go their way, using something she called "flexible thinking."

During the brief lesson, she taught them to cope or move on from an adverse experience. "For kids socially, it's a lot of, 'Hmm, can I take a guess as to how this other person is feeling — can I base my responses on this other person's reactions?" Spera said.

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Spera, a Westminster resident who has been Ebb Valley's counselor since the school opened in 2008, was chosen to represent Maryland for the 2016 School Counselor of the Year program. She and other state representatives will be honored at a White House ceremony in January, where they will be recognized at a black-tie gala.

Spera said she is honored to represent the state, which she believes makes education a high priority.

"In general, Maryland schools are pretty awesome," the New Jersey native said. "We can provide kids with a very good education here; and that's something that is very fortunate in this state."

Ebb Valley Principal Robert Mitchell, who along with CCPS Supervisor of School Counseling Judy Klinger nominated Spera for the award, said Spera is very deserving of the honor.

"It's so nice to be able to see someone who works so hard and who does such a good job be recognized at the state level, but then to be chosen to represent the entire state of Maryland at a national award level it is such an honor for our school and our community," Mitchell said.

Spera received the 2015 Maryland School Counselor of the Year Award from the Maryland School Counselor Association in February, and was chosen from three finalists to represent the state. Representatives were selected for their school counseling innovations, effective school counseling programs, leadership and advocacy skills, and contributions to student achievement, according to a CCPS news release.

"She is just phenomenal as a school counselor; the program that she has created for our school is very much a model program based on national standards," Mitchell said.

As the only counselor at Ebb Valley, a school with 464 students, she often works closely and collaboratively with classroom teachers to provide support to students ages 4-11.

"If there's anything teachers can do for students if they're going through a tough time, they do it," Spera said. For example, they will give students extra attention and even pick up on some of the vocabulary she uses in lessons with students, she said.

Spera, who is responsible for designing her own curriculum at Ebb Valley, as is every other counselor in CCPS, said she is particularly proud of some initiatives and programs she has implemented during her seven years there. Among them is a Report Card Clinic, which she provides to help students improve their academic performance; a Yellow Zone Challenge program to provide early intervention for students who exhibit warning signs in school, to limit further disciplinary referrals; and mindfulness training with staff to provide self-calming strategies for students.

She also leads the school's Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program at the school and was instrumental in the school system's committees on character development and suicide prevention.

Teachers at Ebb Valley raved about Spera, saying they appreciate that she works closely and collaboratively with them.

"I've actually gone to her many times professionally, and she's given me a lot of support and really good ideas," said second-grade teacher Cara Roberts, who is in her fourth year teaching at the school. "You can ask questions and she's not judgmental — she's very understanding."

Second-grade teacher Nicole Wareheim said Spera always sets aside time to establish personal relationships with students.

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"She'll go and pull some from lunch and have lunch with them, just to have a special group with them," Wareheim said.

Roberts said she is impressed with how much time Spera spends getting to know students.

"She's awesome — she loves kids. She always goes out of her way to ask them questions, to find out about them and get to know them as people," Roberts said of her colleague.

Both agreed they appreciate that Spera understands what is going on in the classroom. Spera began her career in education as an elementary school teacher in 2002 and earned a master's degree in counseling from McDaniel College while working as a classroom teacher.

"I've had other counselors that maybe forget what it's like being in the classroom, so what they're asking of teachers to do is a little bit unrealistic," Roberts said. "I think she still remembers what that's like, so when she gives you ideas or strategies she's making sure it's something that's attainable."

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