This year, the small-group counseling services focused on students with behavior problems. Informal data from teachers, parents, and students themselves plus formal discipline referral data from PowerSchool was used to choose participants for the Friendship Groups. In the 2014-2015 school year, 60% of our discipline referrals came from African American students, though they made up only 20% of our school population. According to PowerSchool data, our discipline referrals in 2014-2015 decreased by 45%, though teachers said they weren't really giving students discipline referrals to students when they deserved them, because teachers did not think anything would be done about the students' misbehavior. So, the decrease in discipline referrals appears to be artificial. Also, the principal asked this counselor to hold 2 rounds of groups this year, rather than one round, in order to try to prevent problems from getting worse, and in order to help teachers and students. Therefore, 2 sets of behavior groups (Friendship Groups) were held - one in the Fall and one in the Spring. An additional group, New Baby Group, was offered in the Spring after a 2nd grade teacher requested the group for 3 of her boys who were experiencing continual problems with behavior in the classroom due to a new sibling in the family. A Changing Families Group (Divorce) was also offered, but it ended up there weren't enough children to continue the group. One child moved, one child's parent would not let them participate, and one child's parents ended up getting back together.
Second Step Skills for Social and Academic Success Curriculum was used to address the needs of the students in the Friendship Groups. The skills taught in the Second Step program K-5, are designed to build students' ability to handle interpersonal conflicts effectively, and improve their social skills. Students capable of calming down and solving their own problems are more successful in school and in their interpersonal relationships. According to Second Step, they are more likely to be academically successful, socially well-adjusted, less impulsive and aggressive. This spoke directly to the kinds of problems our students with discipline referrals were experiencing. Second Step is listed as an evidence-based prevention curriculum.
Perception survey results indicate that students K-5, believe they improved to a greater degree than their teachers believed they did. The majority of students believed they "much" or "greatly" improved in behavior, peer relationships, and bonding to school. Though attendance and academics were listed on this perception survey, the main problems these students were having was with their behavior, and so this is what was focused on and reported. As has been mentioned in the Professional School Counseling Journal (Vol.18, #1), teachers, students, and parents frequently don't report the same amount of improvement in behavior. This calls for the school counselor to be a major player between the different groups of people, creating understanding between teacher and student. As Dr. Kaprea Johnson and Dr. Michael D. Hannon noted in the referenced article above, it appears teachers get stressed out, have decreased tolerance, and are more negative with students with behavior problems as the school year progresses. Thus, in the future, this school counselor will try to effectively help teachers understand more about the problems of their students, offer suggestions that might be helpful, and stay in closer contact with these teachers. Staff development on certain child behavior topics could be beneficial. According to this school counselor, it did appear that the groups truly helped the students.
One change I will make in the future, though, is to somehow figure out how to offer more types of small groups. I had planned to do that this year in the Spring, but teachers and my principal kept asking me to hold the Friendship Groups to deal with the behavior issues. Being the only school counselor for the 637 students is a challenge with which I continually struggle.