MCPS Counselors of the Year Announced

by MCS Staff

Three staff members have been honored with 2022–2023 Counselor of the Year awards. The trio—one each at the elementary, middle and high school levels—were recognized at the June 6 Board of Education business meeting.

The three have one thing in common—they don’t work alone. They all say their success would not have been possible without the support of their colleagues. As one said simply, “When we work as a team, everyone thrives.” The 2022–2023 Counselors of the Year are:

Yolanda Faerber, Westbrook Elementary School: Yolanda Faerber has served as school counselor at Westbrook Elementary School since 2019. Two hugely impactful components of her counseling program are the peer mediation program and the S.O.A.R. schoolwide behavioral expectation system. Peer mediation works to change how students approach conflict resolution. The program’s 26 fourth and fifth grade students use it to reduce conflict and learn negotiation strategies and are more likely to intervene when they see bullying or unfair treatment of others. They also learn a greater willingness to help friends avoid conflicts and find resolutions to issues. S.O.A.R. promotes high expectations for student behavior and positively recognizes students who meet those expectations.

Other accomplishments include the establishment of Westbrook as a No Place For Hate (NPFH) school and leading the NPFH committee of students, staff and parents; and the development of a buddy program to ease former Somerset Elementary School students into the Westbrook community during the 2022–2023 school year.

Faerber explicitly teaches social skills and coping strategies so that students have the tools they need to function in dynamic and stressful situations at schools. She also teaches whole-group social-emotional lessons in class each month. She is a team player who engages with parents and community members to promote individual well-being and address issues occurring in the community.

This was never more apparent than back in February, when the Westbrook community experienced two disturbing incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti. In addition to Community Circles with all grade levels and individual and group meetings with parents and students, Faerber also created the Guidance Advisory Committee (GAC), composed of staff and parents, focusing on diversity, equity and inclusion. All parents and staff members were invited to participate; the response was overwhelming. The group held conversations with the goal of healing its community, and will be providing guidance lessons and schoolwide activities reflecting the cultures and beliefs of all Westbrook families.

Nicole Walter, Roberto Clemente Middle School: Nicole Walter has worked at Roberto Clemente Middle School for the past seven years, the last three as resource counselor. She is a trained lawyer who, after years of practicing law, decided to pursue a degree in school counseling. Among her contributions to a comprehensive counseling program:

  • She relocated the counseling offices to converted storage spaces, closets and other available spaces throughout the building so that students can see and hear counselors all day, each day.
  • She designed responsibilities so that all counselors lead a mentorship/leadership club for all historically under-supported student groups. This includes not only school meetings, but also outside events, activities and field trips.
  • She developed Community Days on the first day of each marking period, a daylong series of lessons focused on building, protecting and creating wellness.
  • She created induction processes for new emerging multilingual learners and international students so parents and students feel welcomed and supported. Part of this includes a student shadowing experience, an in-house placement test and a welcome from a native speaking parent.
  • She organizes and leads the school’s Parent Academy, which uses the monthly PTSA meetings to support parents on topics including teen depression, anxiety, ADHD, use of technology, opioid use and anti-racism.

Walter works to create an accepting community of love and acceptance. She organizes the Clemente Closet, which serves as a clothing bank for children during the school year, but also holds space for clothing for special celebrations, such as dances. She works with the counseling staff and school leaders to celebrate a schoolwide cultural celebration every month. She leads the Best Buddies program, which pairs general education students with students in the Learning for Independence program. The club has more than 100 members, the largest of its kind in MCPS.

Makeyda Soriano, Montgomery Blair High School: A counselor for nine years, Makeyda Soriano has been resource counselor at Montgomery Blair for four years. At Blair, she leads the largest counseling department in Maryland, overseeing 13 counselors, a registrar, a dual-enrollment coordinator, a college and career coordinator and a secretary. When she started the job, she wanted to ensure that the department was accessible, visible and engaging with students. Soriano understands the diverse needs of her students, and works tirelessly to create a supportive and inclusive environment. She works with multiple stakeholders and community organizations to provide efficient programming and support for students.

Even though she shares many resources via a monthly newsletter and on social media, she still reaches out to county recreation centers and libraries to have information posted on community bulletin boards, ensuring that the information is shared widely and that she is finding families where they are.

Soriano has spearheaded October Wellness Week for three years, organized parent mental health discussions, Pink Table Talk discussions, National Eating Disorder Week, and for the first time this year, IMPACT Week, to spread awareness about substance use. Soriano also organizes programs, including the summer Student Service Learning program, summer enrichment for rising freshmen, and the Blazer Ambassador Program, a leadership program for upperclassmen to support various Blair events.

Her colleagues say she is an expert in college and career readiness, and her guidance has helped countless students pursue higher education and fulfilling careers.

One student says of her: “Whether she’s empowering us to be our most prepared selves or just chatting with us in the hallway, Mrs. Soriano brings positivity and energy to everything she does. Mrs. Soriano is an outstanding school counselor who embodies kindness, openness and encouragement.”

Photo courtesy of MCPS, from left to right: Makeyda Soriano, Montgomery Blair High School; Yolanda Faerber, Westbrook Elementary School, and Nicole Walter, Roberto Clemente Middle School


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