Ms. Penna Takes Role as Student Assistance Counselor at HMHS


Photo Courtesy of Ms. Holly Penna

Ms. Holly Penna, new Student Assistance Counselor at HMHS, in a recent photo.

Helene Usher and Sophie Levine, Editor and Staff Writer

This year, Ms. Holly Penna joined the HMHS Staff, serving as the district’s first SAC (Student Assistance Counselor). She also has taken on the role of co-advisor for the National Honor Society. She was kind enough to dedicate time out of her busy schedule to answer questions via email about what a SAC does, why she chose to become one, and what her goals are for the year! Below is a shortened version of our virtual “interview”. 


Helene Usher: What inspired you to become a SAC?

Ms. Penna: While studying school counseling, it was offered to get a SAC certification. When I learned what a SAC does and interned with other certified SACs, I realized it opened the door to many more programming and group counseling opportunities that I felt I could offer a lot in. It is a phenomenal position in that it allows you to build rapport with students and build the sessions around them individually rather than a predetermined curriculum or agenda.


HU: What are your responsibilities in the school? 

MP: Great question! Answer TBD. I’m only kidding. The truth is that the SAC position is totally new to Haddonfield this year and it is now and will be (hopefully) constantly expanding. I am primarily in the high school, but am actually the district’s SAC and can be utilized in any of our schools. Overall a SAC’s purpose is to help support students and maintain that they are happy, healthy, and safe. I can do this through individual counseling sessions, group counseling (which is way more fun than it may sound!), educational lessons about substances, alcohol, social media, LGBTQ, relationships, mindfulness, and anything anyone wants help with. Something I love about the position is unless a student is hurting themself, hurting someone else, or being hurt – I keep everything confidential. So things that they worry teachers, administrators, or parents may find out – stay confidential in my office. Another big element is crisis or trauma counseling and events. If a school were to ever experience a crisis or trauma – a SAC’s job is to jump in and help keep everyone safe and supported. This is often done through proactive prevention planning. Haddonfield students are super lucky to have administrators who care so much about their mental wellbeing. I think you will see a lot more like this in future years; they are constantly looking for ways to offer more support to students. 


HU: What are your goals for the school’s future climate? 

MP: As someone new to the school district, I am hesitant to deeply answer this question because I am just not yet qualified. I’ve only had about two months to make some observations on school climate, anything else is something I have heard from students, staff, or community. On a more general level, I’d like to see an increase in social awareness both online and in person. The level of impact we individually possess  in another’s person’s life is far greater than we realize. We have to be more mindful of each other. That mindfulness can also start with ourselves and being kinder to ourselves. I’d love to see students experiencing higher levels of satisfaction with their presence of mind, with their day to day stress levels, and with interactions they have with others. Another big goal would be to increase education on vaping. It is a far more dangerous substance than most people realize – anyone who wants to learn more in a judgement free zone should come by A104. 


HU: How has the year been so far for you? 

MP: This year has been great so far! I’ve really enjoyed meeting so many students – what a great group you have here! I’ve also enjoyed meeting co-workers and administrators. There are so many great ways to be involved here – it’s really nice. 


*Fun Fact: Ms. Penna stopped drinking Coca-Cola around 2001 because Britney Spears said to drink Pepsi in a commercial! (I think it’s safe to assume Britney Spears is her favorite singer?)*