A wide variety of support groups are offered in the Counseling and Student Support Services (CSSS) Department at Downers Grove South High School (DGS) to assist with specific prevention or intervention goals that align with the department’s mission of providing “comprehensive support attending to the personal/social, academic, and career preparation/college planning needs of each and every student.” A student’s Alpha Team, consisting of a Counselor, Psychologist or Social Worker, and Dean, gathers the available information regarding a referred student and individually screens each student to explore the appropriateness of referrals and student interest. Group topics are selected based on the needs of the students. Most small-groups met on a weekly or biweekly basis. Each group was co-led by two members of the CSSS Department. The decision regarding who led which groups was made based on areas of specific expertise and professional interest. CSSS staff regularly attend professional growth conferences each school year in order to keep up to date with the latest research and intervention strategies. This information is shared amongst the counseling staff at monthly department meetings to further our collective knowledge about the latest counseling topics and interventions. The CSSS department regularly evaluates our work and functions within an RtI framework, offering a tiered systematic approach to working with all students. The CSSS department runs over 20 groups each year, covering a variety of topics such as Children of Alcoholics, Stress, Social Communication, Transfer, Pregnant and Parenting, Mindfulness, and Grief. Many of these groups are run by psychologists and social workers, so we have provided information on the groups that were co-led by school counselors for the purpose of this application.
In 2014-15, an interest arose from teachers seeking support from the Counseling and Student Support Services office to present to classes about reducing stress, remaining focused, managing emotions, and mental preparation for yearly assessments and final exams. Due to the increased requests and positive feedback from various teachers and students in various subjects, our department looked into more professional development opportunities on Mindfulness. In 2014-15 we began our first Professional Learning Community (PLC) on Mindfulness. This team consisted of three counselors, a social worker, and a psychologist. Throughout the 2014-15 school year a need for a Mindfulness Group came up through discussions in PLC and departmental meetings. We started our first Mindfulness group at the start of the 2015-16 school year. This Mindfulness Group was created to intervene with sophomores and juniors who had been referred by Alpha Teams due to high levels of stress and numerous visits to the counseling office for academic and/or social/emotional support. Counseling staff analyzed the student’s academic and social/emotional support data, interviewed students individually and discussed the benefits of participating in a small-group intervention to help students accurately identify their emotions and be able to apply self-regulation skills when needed.
The co-facilitators of this group were two school counselors. Both of these individuals attended professional conferences on topics including anxiety, mindfulness, and the Learning to Breathe curriculum. Based on the knowledge that Mindfulness is a practice and needs to be taught, a twelve-week curriculum was designed to include body awareness, reflection of feelings/thoughts, identifying emotions, bringing attention to stressors/body response, self-care, and developing habits of practicing mindfulness. The goal of the group was to help students become aware of their emotions and to be able to regulate their emotions using a variety of mindful techniques. Students were encouraged to apply the strategies between each weekly session as they noticed changes in their emotions. The selected students completed pre- and post-group surveys providing perception data that would inform counseling staff on the current and future course of this intervention group.
The data collected for this group was overwhelmingly positive. Pre-survey data indicated that students did not know what mindfulness means, lacked consistent self-regulation skills, had low level of awareness of emotions and low skills in managing emotions and demonstrated a lack of tools. Post-survey showed an increase in all of these areas. We also noticed an increase in GPA from first semester to second semester and a decrease in the number of times these students accessed the counseling office for social/emotional support second semester.
In the future, these results will be reviewed in order to determine if any adjustments need to be made such as lengthening the group experience, providing more process time in the group along with the curriculum, adjusting the student selection process, or offering the intervention to other grade levels or other targeted groups of students.