Author Archive

Helpful Tips for Testing!

Written by Rachel Lefton. Posted in ES Counselor

girl test takerWhile the International Schools Assessment (or ISA for short) is right around the corner (February 4th and 5th) for our 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students, we wanted to provide a few helpful tips for our students to feel calm, well rested, and as prepared as possible! Feel free to discuss these tips with your student before Tuesday.  All of our students are going to do a wonderful job showing us everything they know!



1.     Sleep

  • Get a good night’s sleep the night before the test.
  • Make sure you sleep at least 8-10 hours!
  • Big tests require a lot of energy.

2.     Eat

  • Eat a healthy breakfast the morning of the test.
  • Your brain needs a lot of energy to be able to focus on a test.
  • Foods like eggs, cereal, toast, & fresh fruits help energize your brain to think more clearly.

3.     Be Prepared

  • Be prepared on the day of the test!
  • Wake up early enough to have a healthy breakfast.
  • Wear comfortable clothing.
  • Arrive to school on time.



 1.     Relax! 

  • Take deep breaths

2.     Give yourself positive messages:

  • I will do the best I can.
  • I can do it.
  • I am prepared.

3.     Read or listen to the directions carefully:

  • Block out other thoughts.
  • Concentrate on voice or words.

4.     If you get stuck—-don’t panic!

  • Go back to your relaxation exercises.
  • Give yourself positive messages.
  • Change positions to help you relax.
  • Reword the question to help you understand.
  • Don’t panic if others finish before you, it’s not a race!

5.     Budget your time:

  • If you’re stuck on a question, move on.
  • Pay attention to the 5 minute warnings.


Step Forward

Written by Rachel Lefton. Posted in 5th Grade, Elementary School, ES Counselor

empathy handsToday I asked the 5th graders in Ms. Gibbs class to “step forward”. I asked them to be honest, to have courage, and to step forward if they belonged to a certain group. Certain groups that were called forward included if you have ever been teased, if you have ever been told you shouldn’t cry, if you have ever been chosen last for a game, if you have ever felt alone, of it you ever felt too shy, scared, or uncomfortable to speak up for what is right. It was amazing to see students be honest and brave in front of their peers and admit that something hurtful has happened to them. Every student stepped forward to say that they have been teased or called a bad name or made fun of. Every student took a step with their classmates and realized that they are not alone and that they know how it feels.

As a class we discussed the meaning of empathy, and how to look at a situation in someone else’s shoes. The students stated that it is better to first think if you would want someone to do or say that to you. 5th graders were given the chance to reflect on their own experiences and use those feelings to decide how they want to treat others in their own community. As a school family, they took the challenge to see how many compliments they can give others, in order to replace the teases or mean comments that could otherwise be given. We asked the class to all “step forward” and take the courage to change how we treat each other, at school, in our community, and globally.

Here are additional resources to learn more and share with your own students about bullying, empathy, and ways to be an upstander.


How does it feel when your cup is empty?

Written by Rachel Lefton. Posted in ES Counselor

boy with empty cupThe third graders can tell you how it feels when your cup is empty! Today I helped the third grade class learn about self esteem and how others actions and words can effect how we feel! We learned that self esteem is the way that we feel about ourselves. Some days we feel very good about who we are, what we are doing, and how others treat us. When the third graders have high self esteem, they said they feel happy, surprised, excited, loved, and proud. One way we can improve someone’s self esteem is by giving them Pull Ups, or compliments, and showing that we appreciate them. However, third grade also learned what happens to your self esteem when someone tells you a Put Down, a tease, calls you names, or says something mean to you. We discussed when we have teases that we have low self esteem and do not feel good about ourselves.  Third graders stated that they would feel angry, sad, frustrated, anxious, embarrassed, and scared. Together we saw just how put downs can “drain” your self esteem. Each time students gave an example of a put down, a hole would be poked in a cup full of water. Eventually after many put downs, the cup was completely drained of water (its’ self esteem). In order to fill the cup up again, we learned that we have to give 10 pull ups (compliments) in order to cover up just 1 hole. We practiced giving purposeful and meaningful pull ups to others in the class. In the end, we decided that it is easier and nicer to just give pull ups all along and to stop saying put downs that hurt others feelings and self esteem.  At the end of class, I gave a challenge to the students: How many pull ups can you give to others?

full happy cup

Character Through Characters: Winter Break Reading

Written by Rachel Lefton. Posted in ES Counselor

character booksWe had great success with our first round of “Character through Characters” in September, with families and classes reading and discussing the same book! Being able to be consistent and provide the same message about respect, responsibility, integrity, and other positive character traits, helps to build a bridge between home and school. Students loved coming into their classroom and sharing, “I read that book at home!”

We are continuing our “Character through Characters” program with reading during the upcoming winter break. We strongly encourage parents to read these books with their children and talk about the literature at home.  Shortly after the break, the students will discuss this piece of literature with their classmates and teachers and focus on the main theme of the story.  Our goal is for students to be able to contemplate the importance of character development both at home with parents and at school with peers and teachers to solidify their understanding.  Additionally, our teachers will use the literature to continue to build strong classroom communities, expectations and a greater level of respect.

We often find that our younger elementary students not only benefit from but also enjoy listening to the same story multiple times in order to deepen their familiarity and understanding.  Most importantly, we encourage parents to ask their children open-ended questions about the literature such as, “Why do you think the character did…” or “How do you think you would feel if…” or “What would you do if…” in order to promote critical thinking and reflection.

Please let me know if you have any questions. Thank you for helping and supporting us in this project!

Winter Break Reading for Character

Nursery – Responsibility – Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus – by Mo Willems (Manners and responsibility)

Pre – K – Respect – It’s Mine – by Leo Lionni (Respect, Friendship, and Sharing)

K – Caring – Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse – by Kevin Henkes (Respect, caring, apologizing, resolving conflicts)

1stPerseverance – Max’s words – by Kate Banks (Attitude: perseverance, respect, cooperation)

2ndAcceptance – Cloudette – by Tom Lichtenheld (acceptance of self and own abilities)

3rdCourage – Thank you Mr. Falker – by Patricia Polacco (Compassion and courage)

4thEmpathy/Tolerance – Mr. Peabody’s Apples – by Madonna (Rumors and developing understanding and empathy for others)

5thIntegrity –  Sun and Spoon – by Kevin Henkes (Honesty, Integrity)

SEL Expectations

Written by Rachel Lefton. Posted in ES Counselor

SEL components pieces

Along with reading, math, Spanish, Catalan, writing, science, and social stories, our classes are also digging into our social and emotional learning unit! Classes are focusing on friendship skills, anger management skills, problem solving techniques, and assertiveness training. Our teachers use resources, goals, objectives, and vocabulary from two curriculums: Second Step (Nursery through 2nd grade) and Steps  to Respect (3rd through 5th grade). These curriculum guide students in the five SEL areas: Self-awareness, social awareness, self management, decision making/problem solving, and relationship skills. Our teachers guide the students through lessons and skills, while also providing time to practice.

Take a look at the scope and sequence for both curriculums.

Second Step –

Steps to Respect –

As these lessons focus on social skills and social relationships, we want to share with you the social skills expectation for each grade level.

social skill expectations
There will be more information coming soon regarding how to help your student regulate his or her emotions, as well as help your student through the problem solving process.


SEL Talk at School and at Home

Written by Rachel Lefton. Posted in ES Counselor

SEL wordsYesterday I had my first ” Coffee with the Counselor” session for parents, where we discussed our Social and Emotional Learning Program in the elementary school. We discussed the main components of our SEL program, including morning meeting, classroom meeting, themes, curriculum, and assemblies. Many parents also asked for more ways and information to continue this conversation at home. In the near future, I will be blogging more about the objectives and vocabulary used from our SEL curriculum, Second Step and Steps to Respect, as well as providing additional tips on positive communication techniques with children. Please feel free to let me know if there are other topics or areas that you would like more information on to help with your student at home.

Thank you to all who attended the presentation yesterday! For those who were not able to attend, I am posting the presentation slides so that you may also learn how social and emotional learning takes place at BFIS!

Social and Emotional Learning Presentation