School counselor finds calling to help students

When Cynthia Ramos became a school counselor in 2000, she knew she had found her calling.
A former elementary school teacher in public and parochial schools, Ramos is the counselor at Edward K. Downing Elementary School.
“I think I’ve always had a heart for helping the whole child, not just the academic part of them,” Ramos said.
She sees Downing’s 708 students in grades first through fifth for a guidance lesson once a week. Ramos said most counselors will do that once a month. Principal Marcos Lopez said the lessons are to teach youngsters skills such as being proud of themselves, accepting an apology, giving an apology and what bullying is about – when is it bullying, when is it not and whether they are being bullies.
“As I’ve gone through the years, I’ve seen what works best and plugging myself into some kind of a schedule that the teachers know that I’m going to get their class for 30 minutes every single week, it kind of marries us into that relationship. …,” Ramos said.
With standardized testing coming up, she anticipates seeing the students a little less, but she’ll try to keep her time as set as possible.
Ramos said she has been working on reducing discipline referrals and plans to implement something that will give youngsters incentive to come to school.
At a previous campus, Ramos said discipline referrals dropped from 122 to 18. Last year at Downing, they ended up with a little more than 100 referrals and as of Feb. 15, it was 49.
“So it’s looking good,” she said. “And it’s something they take ownership of. I love it.”
Ramos said students always ask her how many referrals there are and she opens each session with that figure. Seeing the youngsters weekly, “being in their ear” and just seeing them in the hallway every day, “you’re kind of like their walking conscience.”
She said she’s thinking of tackling attendance next. Ramos’ idea is that every day at 3:15 when school dismisses someone will come on the loudspeaker and say it’s high five 3:15 just so they know it’s important for them to attend school the next day and then the students would encourage each other to come back.
She noted that if the students aren’t in school, they aren’t learning.
Ramos prefers fostering more good inner feelings than external perks.
“I like working more on internal rewards of them patting themselves on the back, instead of saying, ‘Here’s a sticker. Here’s a pencil,’ because that’s not going to last them a lifetime. What’s going to last them a lifetime is that they know how to seek it out for themselves because the world’s kind of hard,” Ramos said.
Lopez said Ramos is a jewel at Downing who wears a lot of hats.
“And the one that she treasures the most is counseling and visiting with children,” Lopez said. He added that Ramos is always an encourager and motivator on campus. He said she is often the first one that is called when there is a troubled student.
“Students really open up to her and respect her very, very much,” Lopez said. “Not only students confide in her, but staff members, as well. That’s the kind of personality she has. She’s an amazing lady. We just hope she stays and continues to stay because she definitely serves the students here with a wealth of knowledge, love and heart.”
An Odessa native, Ramos earned her bachelor’s degree in Spanish with a minor in education from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, and her master’s degree in counseling from Sul Ross State University. To keep abreast of changes in the profession, there are conferences to attend, monthly meetings of the Permian Basin Counselors’ Association and professional development offered through Ector County Independent School District.
Being able to talk to fellow counselors helps because keeping the students’ issues bottled up can weigh a person down.
“It’s our own way of debriefing,” Ramos said. “We’re keepers of stories and sometimes if you don’t have an outlet for that yourself, then you’re not very good and self-care is really important because of that. You have to be present. You have to be available emotionally to them because they’re putting their stories on you. Sometimes we do wear them and they come out in our own lives if we don’t take care of that.”
A lot of people wonder what kind of problems elementary students would have, but she said they are many of the issues adolescents or even adults would deal with. Examples, Ramos said, are friend problems, divorcing families and not knowing where they fit in, incarcerated parents or living with other guardians.
Ramos said she can’t tell the students what she would do in their situation, but sometimes they have shared experiences and she can show the students that there is hope.
“That’s a lot of our job is normalizing whatever it is that they’re going through because a lot of times that kid will say, ‘Oh it’s just me’ and it’s not there are so many out there they just don’t talk about it,” she added.
Social media is something that has changed her job.
“It’s not just words here on the playground. It’s whatever they’ve Snapchatted or put on Facebook, or whatever else,” Ramos said.
Having been a counselor for 17 years, Ramos said she’d like to think she’s helped students over some rough patches. One of her rewards is that after a few years and her students have grown up, they see her and ask her if she remembers something.
“It’s kind of cool that maybe something you said and they remember … has changed their life or their perspective,” Ramos said. She added that being invited to life events like graduations and weddings shows her that she matters to them.
Ramos has three children and two grandchildren. Erika Craig, 30, lives in Plano, and Roy Ramos, 27, and Jonathan Ramos, 24, of Odessa. Roy Ramos is an Odessa Police Department officer.
Erika has a daughter named Emily, who is 3, and Roy has a child named Ryan who is 1.