Position: Seventh Grade Counselor
School: Hull Middle School
School District: Gwinnett County Public Schools
City, State: Duluth, GA
Music that Describes Teshia
“Don’t ever underestimate the importance you can have, because history has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take a life of its own” - Michelle Obama
Ms. Dula has worked in education for 25 years, and 23 of those years have been in school counseling. She’s hardworking, eager to learn, and trustworthy. She enjoys building relationships with students and helping them in their academic and social development. Ms. Dula loves every part of being a school counselor, and every day is exciting for her. She strives to build a better future, one student at a time.
Ms. Dula became a counselor after receiving her Master’s degree from Hampton University, with a focus on middle school counseling. In the 1990’s, internships were not always as hands-on as they are now. Although Ms. Dula had learned theory and received some practice, she wasn’t exactly sure what she was about to embark on. The most important thing to her was to make a difference in the lives of children and society.
On the eve of Ms. Dula’s very first day as a school counselor, August 1998, she called her father and told him she was going to start her new career, but she didn’t know what to do. He said, “Baby girl, you just received your Master’s degree! You know what to do! Ask for the files!” Little did he know, he was on to something.
From the beginning of Ms. Dula’s career, she enveloped the “new” ASCA model program and its idea of using data to drive school counseling. The program was not “official” and was only spoken about in professional development, but Ms. Dula began to implement the ideas. She has used data to advocate for students and school counseling over the course of her career.
“Every year, my team and I review the school’s improvement plan, the ABC report (attendance, behavior, and course content), the SEI (student engagement instrument) and the PBIS data (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports),” said Dula. “We use the information to create our goals, action plans, calendar, and school-wide initiatives. Additionally, we use evidence-based activities and interventions and present them in classrooms and small groups (using mindsets and behaviors). Furthermore, in designing a comprehensive program, we collect and analyze data throughout the year to stay focused on our goals.”
During the 2018-19 school year, disciplinary referrals had increased. In response to this, Ms. Dula met with the PBIS committee and planned to offer additional learning opportunities for staff, encourage staff to use the positive reinforcements, and consult with other schools and leaders in the county on PBIS. Additionally, as chair for the mentoring program at her school, Ms. Dula sought to restructure the program and train staff to act as mentors.
Ms. Dula is a fierce advocate for the counseling profession. She believes that communicating to stakeholders about school counseling and how it makes a difference is important. Ms. Dula and her team consistently discuss the benefits of a comprehensive school counseling program with administrators, the school advisory council, the counseling advisory council, the Parent Teacher and Student Association, and other important stakeholders.
Some other examples of Ms. Dula’s ongoing advocacy are handing out business cards, updating her bulletin board and website/E-class, posting positive counselor posts on social media, posting a counseling calendar, sharing her department’s annual goals, presenting their results to stakeholders, training interns, holding parent workshops, and volunteering in the community with programs such as Girls On The Run, Cheerleading, and Junior League, to name a few.
During the 2017-18 school year, Ms. Dula set a goal of making sure that the number of students failing two or more subjects decreased by 20% by the end of the school year. She utilized a variety of direct and indirect interventions, including individual meetings with students and parent workshops. Her hard work paid off; by the first week of May 2018, the number of students failing two or more subjects went from 33 to 12, a 64% decrease. It was predicted that all students would end the year passing the seventh grade.
Ms. Dula set the same goal for the 2018-19 school year. This time, she started with a core group of 10 students, with whom she or her intern met with. This group was also known as the Check In Check Out (CICO) group, and they were offered parent learning sessions. By the end of the year, only four of these students were still failing two or more subjects.
In addition to her counseling duties, Ms. Dula has spearheaded a variety of activities at her school, including The LIONS Academy Mentorship Program, The Hull Advisory Team, and the In-School Suspension Advisement Lessons.
The LIONS Academy works in collaboration with the GCPS Community Based Mentorship Program. Its purpose is to connect caring community members with students to act as mentors. The mentors are trained, have background checks, and participate in county activities. The program’s focus is building resilience, character, and leadership. Its components include parent workshops, trained mentors (staff and community), small group mentoring, large group mentoring, and small counseling groups. The county also offers additional opportunities to strengthen relationships. Some of the activities that the county offers annually are a career summit, life skills lessons, and a mother daughter tea, to name a few. Ms. Dula has presented at the life skills workshops and participated as a mentor for a student at a different school.
The program is phenomenal! Once a week, the mentors meet with their mentee at the student’s school to provide encouragement and support. Moreover, they often meet with them outside of school hours to take them to activities and spend quality time with them.
“I feel most comfortable working with the county program because it has been school board approved and a background check is completed on every mentor,” said Dula. “Most of the students for the program are identified using the Academic, Behavior, and Course Content (ABC) report. Parents of students who have not been identified at-risk on the report, may request their child receive a mentor and participate in the academy.”
Another collaborative effort spearheaded by Ms. Dula is the Hull Advisory Team. It was originally created because of a school tragedy in another state. It has morphed into a principal’s advisory team, with Ms. Dula as the lead sponsor. The students are selected based on their leadership skills, and they have the opportunity to participate throughout their years of middle school. The students receive leadership training, and they lead the Kindness School-Wide Program. Some of the activities the team has initiated are: Kindness Week, Be Kind Pledge, Kindness Videos, Advisement Lessons, Kindness Challenges, and Community Service. The administrators and counselors work together on running the school club.
The Advisement Lessons for In School Suspension were created in response to an increase in office discipline referrals. Ms. Dula met with her principal over the summer and designed a new initiative to assist students with learning from misbehavior. Consequently, Ms. Dula attended a professional development session on a similar idea. She found relevant resources for the initiative and trained the ISS Coordinator in presenting the lessons. Furthermore, she communicated with community members to present for the LIONS Academy and invited current ISS students to participate when they had an assembly. Finally, she continues to check in with the ISS coordinator on a weekly basis.
Because of her work, Ms. Dula has received the RAMP award for her school, GCPS and GSCA Counseling Writer of The Year, and the GCPS Middle School Counselor of the Year.
Ms. Dula believes in life-long learning. Throughout her career, she has participated and presented in many professional workshops, conferences, and classes to help her become a more knowledgeable school counselor. Her favorite workshops have been about using data effectively in school counseling, how to work effectively with students who are at-risk for behavior problems, working with LGBTQ youth, and engaging classroom lessons.
Over the last several years, she has been an active participant and presenter for GCPS Professional Counselors and for the GSCA Conference. She has also been a presenter for The GCPS Community Based Mentorship Program, Junior League of Gwinnett and North Fulton/Bright Girls Bright Futures, The Upsilon Alpha Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.’s Sub-Debutante Program, and the GCPS Elementary Peer Leader’s Conference. Ms. Dula has given presentations about using E-Class in School Counseling, STEAM Lessons for the School Counselor, Advisement in ISS, and Fun and Engaging Groups and Lessons. For the other nonprofits listed above, Ms. Dula has taught workshops for students on topics such as leadership, communication, self-esteem, and resilience.
Presently, Ms. Dula is in supervision to become a Licensed Professional Counselor, and she’s enrolled in a doctoral program for counseling at Liberty University. She is expected to graduate before 2023. This summer, given the pandemic and race relations in our country, this summer, Ms. Dula signed up to become an ASCA Specialist in 3 areas (Cultural Competence, Ethics, and Mental Health).
“Teaching and learning help me to become a more knowledgeable school counselor,” said Dula. “When I am a participant, I gain new information from the presenter’s perspective and research. When I am the teacher, I learn through my research and delivery. Everything is an effort to become a better school counselor and advocate for all students!”
Outside of school, Ms. Dula can be found reading, writing, jazzercising, and spending time with family and friends. She represents what being a LifeChanger’s all about!