My Very First Symposium

When I opened up the email from NAGC telling me that I had received a scholarship to attend the my very first symposium, I was beyond thrilled! I am a middle school counselor and a therapist for Camp El Tesoro de La Vida, and I was excited for the opportunity to learn from and network with other professionals who work with grieving children and adolescents. As a school counselor, I have met with many students over the years who have experienced a death loss, either recently or in the past, and through a district survey, I learned that many of my colleagues at other schools experience the same concerns. Through attending the symposium, I hoped to gain knowledge, information, and interventions to share with the administration and faculty at my own school, as well as fellow counselors within my district. This symposium did not disappoint!

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From the moment I walked into the conference center for the opening reception on Wednesday afternoon, I felt immediately comfortable. The other attendees were so friendly and welcoming, and quickly began introducing themselves and sharing their roles and careers with me. This friendly and warm atmosphere continued through the entire symposium, whether at breakfast in the morning, the conference sessions, the bookstore, or even dinner at night. The NAGC encouraged us as attendees to spend time getting to know each other, and even provided opportunities for us to network.

The sessions at the symposium were amazing, and I truly enjoyed every session I attended. The presenters were excellent, and incorporated lecture, discussion, and experiential activities. After the first night of the symposium, I couldn’t sleep because I had so many ideas running around in my brain! The gorgeous mountains were quite a backdrop for the activities, especially those that included mindfulness and being present with our own grief experiences. I learned about “Forest Bathing”, that getting your hands “dirty” on a wellness walk raises your immunity, and that trees give out healing chemicals. I will definitely use this information with my campers and their families when I leave for Camp El Tesoro de La Vida on July 19, as well as incorporate “Wellness Walks” outside with my students.

It was a little tricky to pay attention to the speaker with the mountains in the background! 🙂

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My Memorial Rock- made this in the session “Embodied Empathy/ Embodied Grief: The Stone Walk”- We were witnesses to our colleagues’ grief, and entrusted them with our own.

I learned the sobering statistics that in Texas, 1 in 16 children will experience the death of a parent or sibling by the age of 18 according to the Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model (CBEM), and that the estimated number of murders in the US is 17,284, and that there were 42,773 deaths by suicide in the United States in 2014. These statistics demonstrate the need for more death and bereavement education for school counselors, school personnel, and all stakeholders within our education system. As a school counselor, my goal for the upcoming year is to offer more grief and bereavement groups for students at my school, and include a lot of the ideas and information learned through attending the school-based sessions. Having the opportunity to network with grief and bereavement professionals who collaborate with school districts to offer services was an invaluable experience, and I have several plans and ideas to share with our district Director of Guidance and Counseling.

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One of my favorite experiences from the symposium was the “Activity Sharing Session”. The pictures above demonstrate just a few of the amazing activities that were we able to see or even create ourselves. I loved being able to see examples of the interventions, have the instructions for them at our fingertips, have the opportunity to ask questions, and especially the experiential part of the session. I am extremely proud of my “inspiration mobile”, and can’t wait to make these with both my campers and my students…. This mobile will have a special place in my office!

As I mentioned before, the location of the symposium was amazing! We had the opportunity to hike in the chilly mountainous air, visit the summit for a networking reception, and even make a tiny snowman!

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I decided to find a peaceful spot to place my Memorial Rock, and left a piece of my grief (and my heart) on the side of the mountain overlooking a beautiful view of the mountains in the distance.

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My Memorial Rock

This symposium was not only informative and inspirational, but life-changing as well. I made new friends, colleagues, and business contacts, and hope to maintain these relationships over the years. Thank you to the NAGC for this amazing opportunity!

Author: Kelly Guidry, PhD, LPC-S
Eagle Mountain- Saginaw ISD// Camp El Tesoro de La Vida (Bereavement Camp)