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April is Counseling Awareness Month

Counseling Graduate Eases Transition for Refugees

Lauren Goodsmith started out her career producing documentary videos. A Yale graduate and New York native, she shot or produced films on the experiences of non-English-speaking students in New York schools, the discriminatory treatment of people with AIDs, and innovative mainstreaming programs for physically disabled teens, among others.

Eventually she was drawn to work in developing countries where she helped train community teams in the production of health education videos in diverse local languages. These programs served as an aid in raising consciousness and promoting dialogue and concerted community action on issues such as children’s welfare, women’s health and harmful traditional practices.

In 2004, under a collaborative project with the American Refugee Committee, she provided media training for an initiative to reduce sexual- and gender-based violence in refugee camps and post-conflict areas, chiefly in West and East Africa.

“Through this work, I witnessed the dire conditions affecting refugees and conflict-displaced individuals, including those in several of the countries from which Baltimore’s refugee communities originate,” said Goodsmith, a 2015 graduate of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program at the School of Education.  

Maryland is a major hub for incoming refugees, as well as those fleeing political persecution, with major resettlement centers in Baltimore and Silver Spring. Between 2010 and 2014, more than 10,000 refugees and individuals granted asylum settled in the state, a majority of them in the greater Baltimore area. Many are survivors of conflict-related trauma, torture or sexual- or gender-based violence.

“Refugees often flee with nothing but the clothes on their back,” she said. “They experience the loss of family, community and social support networks. Many spend years, even decades, in refugee camps before there’s an opportunity for resettlement elsewhere. When they arrive in the U.S., they experience the stress of acculturation, a new society, a different language. There is an enormous unmet need for culturally informed services for refugees arriving in Baltimore.”

Shortly after arriving in Baltimore in 2002, Goodsmith began volunteering with Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma, which provided case management and mental health care for torture survivors from many countries. She assisted as a French interpreter and was deeply affected by the nature of the traumas that the center’s clients had experienced and the profound benefits of the therapeutic care they received.

Her experiences led her to the School of Education’s master’s program in clinical mental health counseling where she focused her work on refugees in the greater Baltimore area who remain an underserved, yet growing, population.

A major factor in her decision was the opportunity to take the course, “Counseling Refugees and Immigrants,” with Fred Bemak, founder of Counselors Without Borders. The class, which Goodsmith took early in the program, helped synthesize much of what she had observed during her work overseas. Bemak stressed the importance of a therapist’s awareness of the refugee experience, both before and after their migration, and how it affected the immediate stressor.

“They might be coming to you to talk about family conflict or stress over the need to find a job,” said Goodsmith. “The counselor must be attuned to the presence of other cumulative issues, while avoiding assumptions about that individual’s experiences.”

Bemak emphasized the collective social orientation of most refugees and immigrants, as contrasted with the Western focus on the individual. He also stressed that the therapist should be aware of cultural influences that inform diverse attitudes toward sickness and health.

“Various cultures might attribute different causes to certain symptoms and behaviors,” said Goodsmith.

Bemak’s integrated model of counseling incorporates this understanding of different worldviews around well-being and health and healing, and recognizes the role of traditional and indigenous approaches.

“This expanded perspective really underscores the limitations—and inaptness—of a typically Western, strictly medical model. It was a very powerful, very inspiring message,” she said.

Goodsmith enjoyed taking courses on Existential and Gestalt therapy with Fred Hanna, and with others in the program, including [program director] Norma Day-Vines, Wayne Hunt, Durwood Whitten, Michelle Muratori and Samuel Gladding. She also appreciated the program’s format.

“With most classes being in the evenings and on weekends, the program enabled me to continue working, gaining important experience related to the coursework. I really appreciated that,” said Goodsmith. “And I took full advantage of the many great electives that complement the main coursework in social and cultural diversity.” 

While pursuing the SOE program, Goodsmith was awarded a $60,000, 18-month grant from the community fellowship program of the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, with the aim of establishing a local cadre of therapists who would provide culturally attuned, free counseling for refugees. She took a year’s leave of absence to focus on the initiative, which became known as the Intercultural Counseling Connection.

The Intercultural Counseling Connection has grown into a referral network of 30 mental health professionals in the greater Baltimore area, and Montgomery, Howard and Prince George’s counties. Since the project’s inception, they have provided over 650 hours of therapeutic care for refugees, asylum seekers and asylees from Burma, Bhutan, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Iraq, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere. The pro bono services offered by the network are especially crucial for asylum seekers, who do not have insurance or access to federal benefits.

The network has also provided 15 training workshops for therapists on diverse aspect of refugee mental health. As long as the clinicians undertake work with one or two individuals a year, they will gain priority in the workshops. “We help provide continuing education units,” said Goodsmith, “and they get expert guidance and consultation from our clinical supervisor.”

The Intercultural Counseling Connection is run in coordination with advisors and partners in the Refugee Mental Health Program of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene; Asylee Women Enterprise; the Tahirih Justice Center; the Maryland Office for Refugees and Asylees; and the International Rescue Committee-Baltimore. Bemak is among the project advisors.

“The School of Education program helped strengthen my capacity for professional reflection and self-awareness, and instilled a greater practical understanding of how to provide culturally attuned mental health services—skills that serve me as a therapist and as a program coordinator for the Intercultural Counseling Connection.”

Bobby Moore develops crowd-funding service for students with academic projects

By Jim Campbell

When Bobby Moore '13 was teaching at Furman Templeton Elementary School in the West Baltimore neighborhood, he knew that when the school day ended so did the learning opportunities for students. They were not likely to be able to grab a book from a home library, take a trip to the museum or sign up for a private lesson to learn how to play a musical instrument. These out-of-school activities that middle class students take for granted are not available to children in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.  

“I’ll always remember Angel, one of my fourth-grade students,” Moore said. “She was very bright and tested at a seventh-grade level in both reading and math. Angel had unbelievable potential and her parents were very supportive, but they had a hard enough time providing for the basic necessities such as food, rent and utilities. Angel’s access to meaningful academic resources and opportunities suffered because of the financial constraints of her family.”

Moore, a 2013 School of Education graduate with a master’s degree in educational studies, is quick to point out that Angel is not alone. Of the 83,000 students in Baltimore City schools, more than 85 percent are considered low-income, based on their qualifying for federally subsided lunches.

Maryland ranks among the nation’s 10 worst states in providing access to meaningful out-of-school experiences, according to the Maryland Out-of-School Time Network (MOST). In 2014, only 16 percent of K-12 students participated in after-school programs, whereas research shows that over twice that many would participate if available. MOST is a statewide nonprofit organization committed to promoting more and better out-of-school leaning programs. 

“It seemed so unfair to me that a family’s financial situation should prevent a child from accessing after-school learning. Baltimore has a whole generation of students who deserve to have their stories told and their dreams supported. Angel and other children in the city should be able to access the same learning experiences that other children have in surrounding counties. “

Two years ago, Moore began looking at ways that technology could connect student educational needs with potential donors. “I’m convinced that if Angel was able to digitally share her academic needs with a broader network of individuals, she would have received the help she needed.” 

Moore wrote a business plan for Student Opportunities and Academic Resources (SOAR), a “platform that will enable students in Baltimore City to showcase and fund their academic needs, interests and passions.” Students will be able to create their own profile with the assistance of their teacher. Profiles include a photo, a short biography, samples of school work and a recommendation on a project they want funded. All profiles are approved by the teacher. 

Moore left teaching last year to pursue SOAR full-time. “I believe that this project will contribute to a child’s learning in a meaningful way, and I wanted to devote as much time as I could to get it up and running.” 

In developing the model, Moore ran his plan by representatives of several foundations. They offered technical support on the development of the website, and he received grants totaling more than $60,000 to promote the program, hire staff and give himself a small salary. 

The SOAR platform was launched last fall, and in its first six months it registered 134 student profiles at 15 schools. The site has raised $11,000 in direct student funding for 94 projects. Funded activities range from specialized reading materials, to academic software, to musical instruments, and much more.

“We were able to fund a tour of civil rights landmarks in the Deep South for a high-school social studies class for $360. Another project was a request from a girl who wanted to be in a band. Her music teacher saw some untapped talent and supported her request. We were able to get her a saxophone.” 

While SOAR funds a few big projects, the majority cost less than $60. “Many smaller donors like that they can complete a project for the smaller amounts. People shouldn’t underestimate the value of small-scale items, like summer reading books or math practice books; those resources can equally have a tremendous impact on a student.”

Moore, who visits schools to explain SOAR to students and teachers, writes his own grants and meets with potential donors, and has a small staff including a web developer, website administrator, two school outreach directors and a business partnership director.

He credits his Johns Hopkins connections with helping to get the program started and getting the word out to the education community. Amy Wilson, one of his School of Education instructors, served as an initial board member of SOAR and helped promote the program with other teachers. His classmates, many of whom are teaching in schools across the city, have signed up for SOAR and are encouraging others to do so. 

Moore’s goal for next year is to increase the number of student profiles to 600. He also plans to expand into Baltimore County. Over time, he wants to establish the program in other cities, like Philadelphia and New York. 

Katrina Foster, principal of the Henderson-Hopkins K-8 School, said, “Through our partnership with SOAR Baltimore, several students from our school have been able to fund projects that have helped them to advance academically. From laptop computers to science kits, our students have benefited tremendously because of Bobby’s ingenuity and commitment to advocating for the students of Baltimore. We look forward to expanding our reach through the SOAR platform.”

To learn more about SOAR, visit or email Bobby at

Sarah Nagro sole recipient of 2015 Doctoral Dissertation Award

By Dave Defusco

Sarah Nagro’s '15 first teaching gig was a sixth-grade special education class at the PS 45 International School in Buffalo. The class, a virtual United Nations, teemed with refugees, immigrants and an ethnically diverse mix of poor local residents from hardscrabble neighborhoods in a city still struggling to recover from deindustrialization in the last century.

The challenges were manifold. Many of her students had trouble speaking English, many couldn’t read, and all of them struggled with either learning or emotional disabilities. Some at the end of the year were old enough to drive.

The teaching was demanding enough. Keeping students on task is a perennial challenge for anyone in the profession, but this eclectic mix of students required that Nagro be part counselor, cheerleader and nurse. Some wanted to quit school rather than admit they couldn’t read; others masked their disabilities with the bravado acquired from the street. Then there was the paperwork.

Nagro had the benefit of working for a school whose very mission encourages multicultural perspectives and welcomes diversity, but her peers in public education aren’t so lucky. Many special educators leave the profession after three years feeling isolated, unsupported, overwhelmed and frustrated by the low pay and lack of respect, all of which has contributed to a national teacher shortage.

“It takes a unique person to have the right disposition to find success in that role,” said Nagro, who graduated from the School of Education’s doctoral program last May.

Nagro said she enjoyed the experience because she saw the difference she was making in students’ lives. “You have to get to know the students and build relationships with their families,” she said, “and understand what their needs are and how to help them.”

Given the grim realities of the profession, she was inspired to find better ways to prepare special education teachers for the demands of the career. So, in 2011, Nagro entered the Johns Hopkins doctoral program to study teacher preparation and special education. She had already acquired master’s degrees in childhood education and special education from D’Youville College in Buffalo.

As a doctoral student, she was selected to participate in a JHU Special Education, four-year U.S. Department of Education grant focusing on teacher preparation and the use of evidence-based practices in special education. She sought out experts in the field and absorbed the scholarly literature and research that would inform a better process for preparing teachers to educate students with special needs.

As part of her doctoral training, Nagro then had the opportunity to apply that knowledge in the classroom when she taught courses for master’s students at the School of Education in Math Methods for Students with Mild/Moderate Disabilities; Reading Methods for Students with Mild/Moderate Disabilities; and the Student Internship Experience.

For her dissertation, she worked with six of the seven teacher preparation programs at Hopkins to investigate the reflective practice of preservice teachers. The purpose of her quasi-experimental study was to understand the effects of guided video analysis on teacher candidates’ reflective ability and instructional skills during student-teaching field experiences that included students with disabilities.

Reflection and video recording activities were combined to promote critical thinking and improved instructional skills during video analysis. Thirty-six teacher candidates with similar prior experience were split into two groups. Both groups participated in semester-long field experiences where candidates video-recorded their instruction four times and wrote corresponding reflections. Participants in both groups felt they made significant improvements in their teaching ability, but only the group given guidance in how to reflect demonstrated significant growth in reflective ability and instructional skills over time.

“In our teacher preparation programs, we need to look at not only what we are asking our students to do, but how we are guiding them through these activities,” said Nagro. “We want to improve their teaching abilities and increase their level of knowledge and understanding of the field.” 

Last November, Nagro was the sole recipient of the 2015 Dissertation Award given by the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children at its annual conference in Tempe, Arizona. This prestigious national award recognizes doctoral students for their dissertation investigations and contributions to the field of special education.

“Sarah’s dissertation research on videotaping of preservice teachers during their field experiences will change how we in the field of special education guide teachers,” said Laurie deBettencourt. “Her results will influence how we collect data on the changes teachers make.”

After graduating from the School of Education, Nagro joined George Mason University as a tenure-track assistant professor where she continues to conduct research on teacher preparation in special education. “I hope I’m making a difference in the field and helping the learning experiences of students with disabilities by improving the teachers who are entering the classroom,” she said. “I’m hoping to make positive changes for kids.”

She credited deBettencourt with instilling the notion that special educators should be leaders in the field and advocates for themselves and students with disabilities.

“The culture of excellence is pervasive at the JHU School of Education,” said Nagro. “You are among people who are at the top of their field. It really does rub off. If you want to be a leader in the field, you should be with the best. That’s what I think Johns Hopkins is about. I feel like I entered the field at a great advantage.”


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