Afrika Hamilton, from Macon, GA has a helping spirit. While an undergraduate at Mercer University, she interned at The Methodist Home. Upon graduating with a bachelor’s in psychology, she took a year off to figure out how she would like to be an arbiter of change in the world.
“I went back and forth with the idea of working in higher education or social work because I love working with adolescents and young adults,” she said.
She came to the realization that she could work with teens as an educator in a high school or middle school setting.
“My supervisor saw my passion and encouraged me to apply to a school counseling graduate program. I found the program at Georgia State, applied and received an acceptance call. I moved to Atlanta and here I am!”
What inspired you to pursue a degree in School Counseling?
I knew I wanted to help people but was unsure how. I worked as a direct care staff for teenage girls from the age of 13-20 years old at The Methodist House. I fell in love with this particular population of clients. I loved working with teenage girls who have experienced some degree of childhood trauma. After working at the group home, I saw a disconnect between school staff and families when it came to providing services for youth that had experienced childhood trauma.
For example, a lot of my clients were getting suspended or receiving harsh consequences for behaviors that we did not see in the group home. This experience was the birth of my advocacy for trauma-informed schools and trauma-informed care. I decided that I wanted to help schools bridge the gap between families, students and the school as it relates to trauma-informed care. As a school counselor, I will be able to advocate for at-risk students and implement interventions to help all students succeed.
My experience has been challenging but very rewarding. I learned a lot about myself by tackling my own biases and checking my internal views to be the best school counselor for my students.
I was told growth happens when you are in an uncomfortable and challenging situation, and I have watched myself grow over the past two years.
I started this program feeling incredibly lost, but as I enter my last semester I am glad I trusted the process. I have had many opportunities, but one that stands out to me is being able to work with Laura Shannonhouse, Ph.D. with research. I have fallen in love with research and would love to continue to advocate for students and the school counseling profession through continued research.
It has been an honor to have been selected as a member of my cohort. I have cried many tears, and I have laughed countless laughs. I love each person in my cohort. We have indeed grown into a mini family, and I am ecstatic to see each of us become amazing school counselors in the field next year.
What are some of your challenges?
I had to make a lot of adjustments in my personal life to fulfill the requirements of the program. At the beginning of the semester, I felt defeated and did not know how I was going to meet all the requirements for internship. Through encouragement from my classmates and my support system, I was able to power through. I spent learning the culture of the school, building rapport with teachers and students, learning the system and policies.
Once I found my way, I was able to navigate through my internship as co-counselor in the building. I ran my own small groups, classroom lessons and I had my own caseload of students to see. I was able to find my place as an intern.
I am creative and artistic by nature, so I chose to volunteer every Tuesday and Thursday with the art club at my site. This was an excellent way for me to become visible and build rapport with students that usually would not come into the counseling suite.
After volunteering with the art club, students would greet me in the hallways when I walked in the building, and at that moment I knew I was building a positive rapport with my students.
I also had the opportunity to begin the process of starting a new initiative at my internship site called Girls On The Run (GOTR). One of the school counselors had the idea to become a coach for the initiative, and she sold me on the GOTR program.
GOTR is a non-profit organization that teaches young girls life skills through dynamic, interactive lessons and running games. Running is used to inspire and motivate girls, encourage lifelong health and fitness and build confidence through accomplishment.
At the end of the ten-week program, the team completes a GOTR 5K that gives them a tangible sense of achievement. I am excited and enthusiastic to start this program and become a coach alongside two other teachers and a school counselor at my site.
Do you feel prepared for the next part of your internship?
I feel more than prepared for the second semester of my internship. The first semester of the internship was a process of learning the culture of the school and building rapport. As I enter my second semester of internship, I will take the role of a co-counselor in the building. I am excited for next semester because I will be implementing a targeted intervention plan (TIP), also known as closing the gap intervention. For my TIP project, I will be conducting a series of interventions to help close the achievement gap within the school. My TIP project has gotten the approval of my administration staff at my site, and I have received a lot of teacher buy-in.
You also plan to complete the School Counseling Ed.S. degree. What will the specialist degree allow you to do?
I love learning and since I have been in the School Counseling program at Georgia State, I have learned a lot about child development and counseling techniques. The specialist degree will allow me to further my education and sharpen my iron while taking an in-depth look at child development theories, advanced methods of counseling and psychopathology, parent development and family counseling, and research analysis. I have been working with Dr. Shannonhouse this year and continuing my education at Georgia State will allow me the time and opportunity to continue to work with her on more research.
As a Grad Student Ambassador, I had the opportunity to work alongside Dawn Mann and Brent Shropshire, who are two amazingly gifted and passionate people in the field. One of the primary functions of the Career Guidance and Counseling Team is to provide professional learning opportunities for school counselors across the state. As a Graduate Student Ambassador, I have assisted with the professional learning operations on the day of the event. The experience I have gained from volunteering has been unlike any other experience I have learned through my graduate program. I have met and interacted with district-level school counselors, lead counselors, and school counselors across the state of Georgia. I have gained professional knowledge that will support me in the pursuit of my career as a school counselor. I am genuinely grateful for the experience I have had with volunteering as a Graduate Student Ambassador.
Recently, at the statewide professional development day you were able to meet with one of the presenters, Jennifer Curry, who is the author of the “Career and College Readiness Counseling in P-12 School.” This text is used in our CPS 7300 course, which you had taken for your degree. How did you feel about the experience?
Meeting Dr. Jennifer Curry was one of the best experiences I have had as a Graduate Student Ambassador. Dr. Curry presented on ASCA Career Conversations and incorporated the use of a Maker Lab. The Maker Lab is a creative, do-it-yourself (DIY) space where people can gather to create, invent and learn. She built a portable Maker Lab with materials such as LEGOs, Play-Doh, construction paper and many more items. Dr. Curry has a unique and creative way of integrating play within career conversations of all levels, elementary, middle and high school. I did not notice she was the author of our career textbook until halfway through the presentation and I realized I learned most of the things she was presenting on in class. After a conversation with her, I put two and two together and immediately asked for a picture to capture the moment. It was a surreal experience to meet the mastermind behind the material I was learning in the program at Georgia State.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve read or seen this week?
I am a bookworm and always looking for a great book to read. The most exciting thing I have read this week is a book titled, “Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom” by Kristen Souers and Pete Hall. My classmates can attest that I am a strong advocate for trauma-informed schools, and I handed snippets of this book to some of my classmates during supervision. It was a great read.
For Fun: What would be on the gag reel of your life?
I am probably one of the clumsiest people on earth. One day walking to class, I tripped over my own feet in the middle of the road and dropped my drink. I looked around to see if anyone saw me and everyone was staring. I could not help but laugh at myself.