New Mozart Elementary School Counselor Shares a Few Highlights from Her First Year
23 February 2023
Ms. LaMaka's main goal is to support students’ social-emotional needs and push them to dream big.
Ms. Nicole LaMaka, a school counselor at Mozart Elementary School, has always given back to the community from a young age. When she was growing up, her father, a police officer, was always involved with the community through opportunities like volunteering at local schools and creating goodie bags for children at hospitals. Ms. LaMaka attributes her desire to work with children to her father’s efforts.
After working as a teacher for several years and then as a case manager with the city, Ms. LaMaka believes that her father’s influence impacted her decision to become a school counselor, a role she recently took on this school year.
“I always wanted to help children,” she says. “So it [the Mozart counseling program] gives me an opportunity to really highlight students and work with them so that they can boost their self-esteem.”
As Mozart’s school counselor, Ms. LaMaka has daily check-ins with students based on their attendance, grades, and social-emotional needs. She also takes on several other roles, including running the Culture and Climate Committee with the support of other teachers, in which she takes charge of an attendance incentive program. Through the program, students from kindergarten through third grade participate in weekly check-ins to talk about their attendance and have opportunities to earn “Mozart Money,” which allows them access to an in-school bodega or attend school activities, such as Mozart’s upcoming attendance dance.
Ms. LaMaka also takes pride in being an advisor to the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club at Mozart. “I’ve been really proud of them,” she says as she talks about her GSA students and some of their events and programs. The club recently collected over 500 pounds of canned food for their food drive, sold carnations through a school-wide event, and is looking forward to hosting a Youth and Family program manager from the Center on Halsted to speak at the school.
Ultimately, her goal is to support students’ social-emotional needs and push them to dream big, the way she did when becoming the first person in her family to pursue higher education. One way Ms. LaMaka hopes to achieve this is through hosting a college and career fair, where professionals from the community are invited to speak with the school’s largely Latinx student body.
“We want the students to see that there are Spanish-speaking adults in a variety of careers, in a variety of trades, and in a variety of businesses so that they can feel that they can dream big too,” she says.
When asked about the importance of having counselors at schools, she calls attention to the need of providing an abundance of support to CPS teachers.
“The school counselor serves as a bridge between the teachers and the community,” she says. “As a counselor, that’s one of the things that I do with the teachers. We talk and work with families together to help bridge that connection to get everybody on the same team.”