Guidance counselor reflects on her career in education


Roberts-Swank

SIDNEY — Her career in education has spanned 36 years including 30 years with Sidney City Schools. Joan Roberts-Swank retired at the end of the 2014-15 school year as a guidance counselor for the district.

“I started as a fourth-grade teacher in West Holmes Schools at Clark Elementary,” said Roberts-Swank. “I next went to Osaka, Japan to teach English as a Second Language at the Junior College Level. During the Japanese experience (I) got interested in what ‘makes people tick’ and decided to go to graduate school where I majored in Mental Health Counseling with certification in School Counseling. I interviewed originally for an opening in Sidney at Emerson and Lowell Elementaries back in the day when counselors were shared by two schools.

“During the course of the interview, the administrators found out that I spoke conversational Japanese. This was in 1985 and one of the early years the Sidney City Schools had students from Japan; when I was recruited to join the staff — most of the Japanese students at the elementary level were at Whittier — so the counselor at Whittier/Central was switched to Emerson/Lowell and I was assigned to Whittier/Central where I counseled for 26 years. After the closing of Central — SCS restructured and I landed at Emerson — the postion I originally interviewed for — for the final four years of my career.”

The need for guidance and counseling, she said, at the elementary level was recognized by SCS and maintained over the years.

“Some 15-20 years before I was hired, SCS was a ‘pioneer’ school system in this area, leading the way with elementary guidance and sharing the model with other school systems. I was told that previous Pupil Services Director Nita Clayton saw the need and started the program,” said Roberts-Swank.

There have been many highlights during Roberts-Swank’s career with SCS.

“The year the SCS Levy passed by one vote was certainly memorable as there had been talk that elementary guidance might be ‘cut’ if the levy didn’t pass,” said Roberts-Swank.

Other highlights in her career include:

• “Rita Brinkman and Connie Donovan introducing me to the work of Ruby Payne. Training and recognizing students social skills and maintaining good “natural/logical — consequence-type discipline” of students with Principal Mike Epperly, who has a gift for this. His aim is positive and lasting behavior change, which is different from pure “punishment.”

• “Working with Security Guard/Officer Mike Henry and our discussions of how our work has influenced each other.”

• “Lastly, all the remarkable kids and families I have gotten to know over my 30 year span.”

Roberts-Swank remembers her first teaching position in West Holmes included a surprise from one of her students.

“The first time I met one of my students in West Holmes was when he towered above me,” said Roberts-Swank. “He walked into the classroom on a pair of home-made stilts. He was one of two Amish families I taught during my career there. This particular student was inventive and sharp as a tack; I learned early on to keep him busy! At our school picnic at the end of the year, his mother brought the family’s horse and buggy and he gave me a ride around our school grounds.”

And Roberts-Swank also learned from her students, especially one little girl who she counseled.

“A student that stands out in my time in Sidney was one that made headlines. She was almost accused of drowning her little brother in a culvert in town,” said Roberts-Swank. “Fortunately, a witness stepped forward, so the person who drowned her brother in front of her was found, tried and convicted. This is not the only reason she stands out.

“I counseled her two years, so we knew each other rather well. My father died during this time. She noticed I was going through grief of my own. One day she said to me ‘Mrs. Roberts-Swank, I think you need to draw a picture to express your feelings…’ I did so and it helped! Now years later, reflecting back, I still remember her sweet urging and feel a form of gratification that she would share a technique of mine that had worked for her — to help me!”

Roberts-Swank said some of the students she has counseled in the past few years have been children of those students she counseled when she first began her job with the district.

“It has really helped build rapport enabling us to work together very positively for their child/ren. I have had at least two students/counselees go on to become school counselors, themselves and they have reflected fond memories of being in a classroom guidance lesson of mine or in a counseling session,” she said.

Roberts-Swank said the quote “Far and above the best prize that Life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing” conveys the true highlight of her career.

Looking back on her career, she wishes she could change one thing that happened.

“Personally, I wish I would have never said to one little girl ‘No, you don’t live in a castle’ when she told me about moving. After 30 years in Sidney, I have become more familiar with the fact that there certainly are plenty of houses with turrets that a child could interpret as ‘living in a castle.’ If this former student is reading this … I am sorry; now I understand!” she said.

And how would she change the educational process if she could?

“It would be how schools are funded. I am not a financial wizard with a plan all worked out to share, but it has become so difficult for many school systems to pass levies in recent years,” she said. “Even so, SCS’ last one passed and continuing to support schools can only continue to help build a stronger, more vibrant Sidney. Public education is a necessity and will continue, so it would be much better for everyone to continue to work together locally to support levies than to adopt an attitude to vote levies down to the point that the government has to come in with stipulations and more taxes. In the end, those who vote levies down will not be saving money. They are hurting the whole community. It is a more complicated issue than just voting no for no’s sake.”

If she could wave a magic wand, Roberts-Swanks has two wishes she would like to see come true.

“I would make it so that all parents/guardians would daily check the papers their children have completed and are bringing home for them to see and have the parents/guardians sign the daily logs or agendas meant to be an easy way to keep up ‘School -to- and- from- Home’ communication,” she said. “These may seem like small acts, but they accumulate into great importance during the course of a school year and develop habits that can make the rest of the school career easier and more successful; the neglect of this erodes the educational process.

“Although I know there will always be a rebellious sector to our population … with the wave of the magic wand I would make it so that all parents would use good manners when speaking with educators, especially in front of their children. As a trainer of mine, Ruby Payne, said so succinctly, ‘You need to work with us — in order to get the best education you can for your child; when you are old — it’s your children that will be taking care of you. Get the best you can!’”

Roberts-Swank said she has seen many changes in education through the years.

A positive change in my area is that staff and families believe it ‘takes a village to raise a child’ and are more aware that a counselor is a ‘team player’ and here to help,” she said.

“In education, there are more and more demands placed on educators,” she said. “A major demand is so much emphasis on a ‘one-size-fits-all-by- grade level’ standardized test. The test is composed by folks who have not been face to face with our students — like the teachers have been. We all are individuals and how we express what we know comes out in a variety of ways. The teachers certainly employ a variety of techniques to teach the students — with varied needs — that sit before them. The variety of students before them to teach includes the fact that special needs students follow the “Inclusion” plan—meaning they are mainstreamed into the regular classroom; add to this the rise of Autism (with all its individual forms) and extra techniques are required of teachers in this process. In my opinion, more Intervention Specialists and/or paraprofessionals are needed in each classroom — due to the later — in order to produce the best results that testing and the State Report Cards are aiming for.”

Roberts-Swank grew up in Springfield. She received her bachelor of arts degree from Ohio Wesleyan University and her master of science degree from Wright State University. In 2015, the Sidney Education Association honored her with a Career Achievement Award.

She has been married for 22 years to Dan Swank.

“We have a cat, ‘Mr. Sidney Whiskers’ who is going to get worried seeing me home so much; I would always say daily to him as I was leaving for work, ‘I’m off to make cat food money!’” she said.

She has begun to leisurely enjoy the scrumptious breakfasts her husband prepares, without having to hurry out of the house to work. They are looking forward to traveling both domestically and internationally and stay for longer or different times than her working the school schedule ever allowed.

“Being a ‘Snow Bird’ is appealing,” she said. “I recently gave away my ‘Let it Snow’ shirt.”

She is a member of the Gem City Chorus, which is the Dayton branch of Sweet Adelines International.

“It would be fun if I could include, when traveling, being able to sing with another Sweet Adeline Chorus in a different state or different country,” she said.