School Counselor Shares Advice
Startzville Elementary students think counselor Marsha Lippe’s a lot of fun.
She’s always in the hallway to greet them. She knows all of their names. She sponsors a run with fifth-graders two mornings a week. She holds daily court in her office during the wildly popular “Lunch with Lippe,” and every student gets to eat with her at least once a semester. She runs group counseling sessions. She teaches them how their brain works. She shows them to relax using visualization and mental imagery. She attends their games at Community Resource and Recreation Center of Canyon Lake (CRRC). She conducts parent workshops, scheduling them around times and events that make it easy for moms and dads with limited transportation options to attend.
But … what seems like fun and sometimes games to students is actually “prescriptive” for Lippe, who also serves as lead elementary counselor for Comal ISD.
She’s an expert who can tell, sometimes at a glance, when something’s wrong.
“Behavior is communication with kids,” she said. “If they’re behaving a certain way there’s a story there to tell you, and a lot of times they don’t even know what it is.”
Reading that story is important, especially at a school like Startzville Elementary, which is a Title 1 or low-income school that receives federal funds to supplement students’ education.
“There is an incredibly high level of generational white poverty and mental illness,” Lippe said.
But, she sees the potential in every child, and she talks to her students like they’re the adults she knows they will some day become.
“There’s something about every single one of them that has greatness and potential for leadership, and to contribute to society in an amazing way,” she said.
Lippe is positive of that because she comes from an impoverished background, too.
“My childhood was good, except when it wasn’t,” she said. “There were some very hard times. I know what it’s like to be hungry, to have no electricity, divorced parents and severe trauma. Things were incredibly rough. But I did have people that cared about me, people that were kind to me.”
Starting Out in Seguin
Lippe grew up in Seguin. After she graduated from high school, she had a daughter and later began working at an area school as an aide or paraprofessional.
In her thirties, she went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in teaching from the University of Incarnate Word in San Antonio. Counselors are required to teach for three years before earning a master’s degree, so she taught pre-kindergarten and kindergarten before completing her master’s degree in counseling and guidance at Texas A&M.
Lippe commuted to Comal ISD from Seguin — an hour’s drive each way — until her daughter graduated from high school. She moved first to New Braunfels then to the north of the lake near Whitewater Ampitheater.
She’s taught in Comal ISD for eight years.
As National School Counselor Week, Feb. 4-8 winds down, she agreed to share her observations about working with students at Startzville Elementary.
Conversation with a Counselor
(Editor’s note: These quotes have been edited and condensed, for brevity.)
One of the first things Lippe always asks her kids is whether they’ve used their words to solve a problem, instead of just tattling.
The “art of conversation” is dying, due in large part to video games, which Lippe thinks desensitize kids and make it harder for them to play with others and make friendships.
When kids are over-stimulated, they don’t know how to sit and just relax or be bored. They fight.
“I teach kids to talk to each other, not at each other,” she said. “I tell them, ‘I’m not a mind reader, and neither are your friends. You have to ask for what you need.'”
She also teaches students to go easy on themselves, because happiness is a choice — and there will always be negative things to deal with. If you can’t be happy right where you are — in this moment — you can’t be happy.
As for mistakes?
“I tell them they should get excited when they make a mistake because they are about to learn something,” she said. “And when you learn something you get better. I try getting them to understand that mistakes are okay.”
“When they are making mistakes or doing things, it’s easier to be more understanding and work harder with them because they are children who are supposed to be making mistakes. If we see those mistakes as teachable moments, we can evoke change. It happens all the time.”
Lippe hesitates to use the word “bullying.”
“We really work so hard on accountability and character traits,” she said. “We want to build good children because we want them to be good adults. Good is a very simple word. There’s kindness, putting things first. Admitting when you’re wrong. Congratulating others when they do well.
“Children pick on each other, but it doesn’t mean it’s bullying. I’ve never had a true case of bullying in eight years.”
Lippe said the process is about teaching kids to put themselves first.
“If you’re honoring yourself, you are never really going to make a poor decision. Practice pausing before you say something or do something, and think, ‘is this going to honor me? Is this harmful or helpful?'”
“We want them to treat themselves well, which is foreign to a lot of these children. It’s your choice to honor yourself. You can love yourself and care for yourself. It’s something you can do every single day.”
She tries never to let students down, and always follows through on everything she says she’s going to do.
“We don’t realize how little things like that are important to kids. I never say, ‘well, check with me tomorrow.’ I don’t want to be the adult that lets them down.”
Startzville and Its Parents Are Great!
One of the best things about Startzville Elementary is parents.
“The community is fabulous,” Lippe said. “When we ask for help, they answer. Many of them don’t have a lot to give, but will give you anything they have.”
“They’re just wonderful.”
The school works hard to make sure all students have enough to eat after school and on weekends, and also tries to schedule activities so that parents — who may be strapped for gas money — don’t have to make unnecessary trips.
“Times are hard, and it’s expensive,” she said. “The need is so high. I guess that’s the hard part. You have to pick and choose and you have to do the best that you can.”
The school conducts parenting workshops and teaches topics like internet safety for children.
“The faculty and the staff and the administration are top of the line, the best I’ve ever worked with,” Lippe said. “They are amazing. They’re all in it for the kids.”
Years of counseling have taught her how to leave her students’ problems behind, when she goes home.
“I’m always thinking about them, forever and always. But not to the point where I can’t sleep because I don’t allow that. It doesn’t afford me to be a good mom, grandma or sister.”