Prior to the 2015-2016 school year, the Austintown Elementary counselors sat down with administrators to discuss all programs and lessons from the previous school year and plan for the future school year. Considering the diversity of our students and their needs, it was important for us to discuss a wide variety of lessons in order to be prepared. As evidenced by our data, small group counseling makes up the smallest percentage of direct service for us; however, we were still able to conduct ten groups during school year with 46 students participating. Even though small group counseling accounts for the smallest portion of our direct service percentage, it is still an imperative piece to a comprehensive school counseling program and one which we looked to improve.
During the 2015-2016 school year, students had access to a variety of small group counseling including, but not limited to: new students, anger management, grief, self esteem, “lunch bunch”, friendship skills, and making positive choices. Students were referred for small group counseling by teachers, administrators or parents and each group corresponds to the student’s personal/social and or academic needs. Furthermore, a needs based assessment was given to teachers as well as a survey sent home to parents to get feedback in areas that they identified as a need. According to both teacher and parent feedback, the highest percentage of responses identified “friendship issues” as the greatest concern again for the third year in a row. Considering our program goals and overall school wide “Bucket filling” program, a friendship group fits in perfectly. This group’s learning targets are related to our school goals of reducing bus misconduct and further decreasing our habitually truant population. Learning how to make friends and be a friend helps to create an overall positive atmosphere both in school and on the bus. It also helps to encourage consistent attendance by reducing bullying behaviors which leads to a decrease in the number of our chronically and habitually truant population. Lastly, this group also matches the developmental needs of our students, as they are learning the social skills and appropriate behaviors to be a good friend at this level.
Because of the success from the prior year, developmentally appropriate lessons were again chosen from Creative Small Groups by Karen Gannon Griffin to target those students who were referred by staff or parents having as difficulty making and maintaining friendships. This group aligns with ASCA’s Mindsets and Behaviors as it targets 5 out of the 6 Mindsets and and many of the behaviors, including all of the social skills. The purpose of the group was for students to learn positive friendship traits, identify words that can help or hurt friendship, understand differences between friendly and unfriendly behavior, and find ways to help foster positive friendship connections. The lesson begins with an introductory lesson for students to get acquainted. Following, group rules were established as well as six additional lessons with objectives.
Students in grades K, 1, 2 were identified as possible candidates for this small group either due to multiple office referrals or because the teacher frequently noticed a lack of appropriate social skills when the student was interacting with their same age peers. Fifteen total students participated in a friendship group which was broken into four different sections: four Kindergarteners, three first graders, four first graders, and four second graders After the seven lessons were completed for the four groups, 86.7% of the referring teachers felt that they had seen a positive change in regards to the student’s social skills when interacting with other students. Furthermore, after completion of the program, there were only three office referrals in the trimester that followed which was an 80% decrease from the previous trimester.
When analyzing the pre and post test data, it was evident that students acquired the knowledge and skills to appropriately interact with their peers and have positive relationships that foster friendship. 93.3% of students could correctly identify positive friendship traits, 93.3% could correctly identify positive and negative words/friendship behaviors, and 73.3% could identify things that they might enjoy doing with a friend. Lastly, and most importantly, 100% of group members left the group feeling they had made new friends. Due to the success of this program and the need for continued social improvement in peer relations, our small group friendship group will continue into the 2016-2017 school year as part of our core small group curriculum. Lessons may be changed to adjust to student struggles.