When California changed our school funding formula and accompanying accountability plans in 2013-14, we were challenged with looking at new ways to effectively meet the academic, social and emotional needs of our students. For many years elementary teachers and administrators had known that we had a critical need for trained counselors in the elementary setting. We knew that the elementary years were the foundation for student success throughout their school career. With these thoughts in mind, we established an elementary school counseling program with a full time, trained counselor at each elementary site. These school counselors do not work in isolation but are integral to the total educational program. They collaborate with staff, administration, and families to help students achieve success.
Much of the counselors’ work is similar at each site. Most of them participate with teachers on methods and practices in the classroom which promote positive student interaction and learning. However, for those students who need more support, most of our counselors have a daily check in, check out the program to help them make positive behavior choices. These students meet with the counselor before school and talk about the behaviors the student will work on throughout the day. The teacher then keeps a short check sheet which the students return to the counselor at the end of the day. The counselor and student then discuss how the day went, with the counselor offering encouragement and suggestions for improvement if needed. The student then takes this sheet home for the parent to review. This provides constant feedback and communication with the parents. Most often the student is able to exit from this program because of the counseling support.
Another important component of the counselor’s day is conducting small student groups. These groups are goal focused and conducted for many reasons: friendship skills, grief counseling, social skills, coping with anxiety, etc. Groups usually meet once a week for a few weeks. Counselors also conduct whole class sessions, at the teacher’s request, on social skills or on ways to deal with a specific problem.
All of our counselors mentioned crisis intervention as a major part of their job. These are unexpected situations which arise with students, parents, or staff, which require some immediate attention. This may entail individual conferences or maybe a referral to other community resources. The counselors are also available to parents for parenting guidance, including tips to help with students at home, or on helping find outside assistance which might meet their needs.
The counselors work on affirming positive behaviors on school campuses. These are unique to each site. Some of these are: a special “Wolf Den” where students can spend fun activity time when they have made significant improvement in behavior; a weekly video featuring students who have been “caught” doing the right thing; a “Kindness Club” where students receive certificates for acts of kindness, and a yearly “Random Acts of Kindness Week.” The counselors all stressed they are a part of a team to promote positive school culture.
Elementary principals definitely believe the addition of counselors to their sites has been worthwhile. Dana Milani at Yokayo says, “of all the positions that have been added to our site the counselor has been the most important.” Kara Blanco at Grace Hudson says, “Vicente, our amazing school counselor, supports students, parents, and teachers with resources that improve communication and focus on the well-being of the whole child.” And, Tina Burrell at Calpella says, “Our counselor is able to connect with families and students on a very deep and caring level.” Mrs. Burrell goes on to add that the counselor also connects with staff and supports them to remember to take care of themselves.
The elementary school counseling position has proven to be invaluable to our schools in providing the support necessary to prepare students for the ever-changing 21st century.I would like to thank the following school counselors for their information and time in preparing this article, and for the amazing work they do with our students every day: Vicente Duarte, Stephanie Gravatte, Amy Wyse, Stephanie Paige, Keenan Tyner, and Renee Haas.