REVISED: The small groups were created based on the needs evident in our student population, through our needs assessment and created in a way to support our program goals. Each group was designed and implemented as part of coursework for the school counseling intern and the social work interns, and were carefully designed and monitored with the school counselors to ensure they aligned with the program's goals and our vision of school counseling.
Since girls show aggression that is both overt and covert and can be linked to a foundation of insecurity, depression, and a lack of support form peers and adults, the group was created to address the root of the problem and provide a direct and supportive environment for girls to learn conflict resolution, work on peer pressure, support each other, and change the way in which the girls interact with the school and each other.
The interns asked for faculty recommendations for any girls who would benefit from a connection to adults and peers. We also worked with them to look at behavior data and office visits to select students. They met when their teams ate lunch. This created a very diverse cross section, as the groups ranged from girls who were socially withdrawn, those who lacked parental support, those who had considered or been hospitalized for suicidal ideation, those who frequently sought help from counselors, those who suffered from anxiety, and others. These girls saw the group as a kind of social club, making them excited to attend each week and eager to participate in the activities. The social work interns planned specific lessons to help girls deal with issues such as increasing self-confidence, expressing themselves in a positive way, dealing with peer pressure, and supporting their peers. The ultimate goal was to create girls who were confident enough in themselves that they could support each other. This diverse group of strangers became a tightly-knit community. The girls were assessed based on their perceptions of themselves and were more invested in attending school, and more confident in themselves as learners.
In response to several students losing family and loved ones before school began in the fall and as the year progressed, a group was needed to help the students deal with their grief. The school counseling intern and hospice counselor co-led a grief group. She sought recommendations from the staff for students who had experienced loss; other students were already known to the counseling staff as they had sought help previously for their grief. This group specifically taught strategies to help these students deal with their grief and helped them understand that they were cared for.
The counselors and administration also noticed a considerable rise in the anxiety level of the the students, a common experiences for junior high students. The students chosen had often experienced debilitating anxiety that impacted their ability to attend school and succeed. Again, the counseling intern sought recommendations from the staff, spoke with the school nurse, looked at parent reports, and IEP and 504s of any students who reported anxiety; of those approached, eight students eventually consented to join the group, which they later named the “Take a Break” group. These students met every week for 7 weeks and were given lessons in strategies to help them manage anxiety, such as breathing and mindfulness, understanding cognitive distortions, and listening to music. The lessons and group were designed to deliberately focus on two of the ASCA mindsets and behaviors: M3: Sense of belonging in the school environment, and BSS 2: create a positive and supportive relationships with other students. For these students, anxiety often prevented them from feeling welcome at school. In order to determine the efficacy of these lessons, we examined the change in attendance rates of the students as well as their understanding of the lessons that were taught and their self reports of anxiety. An element of the pre and post test was scaling the negative impact of anxiety on schoolwork. All students perceived a negative impact on anxiety on schoolwork by the end of the group and attendance improved.
The impact of the groups showed they all should be continued in the following year. Since anxiety is such a problem at this level it was decided to not only have small groups but to add classroom guidance lessons on anxiety in the Personal Development class to reach more students.