The School Counseling Department conducts small groups for prevention, intervention, crisis response, and to address Gap groups. At the beginning of the year, in collaboration with stakeholders, data points are reviewed along with program components. Using that information, a year-long calendar, action plan, and topic list are developed for both the Core Curriculum and the Small Groups.
For example, the fourth grade “Skill Building” group members were chosen based on reading standardized test scores, which were just barely failing or just barely passing. We were also cognizant to include students who do not receive services with Special Education. An additional fourth grade “Skill Building #2” was formed, using the same testing score criteria and focusing on students who were being referred to Intervention Team, a process to provide interventions prior to testing and Special Education Services. Both of those groups received lessons covering academic success skills like organization, time management, as well as social skills, and emotion management.
In addition to skill building, another significant need for students was grief support. Based on informal measures and a student death in the 2015-2016 year, as well as another student death in the Winter of 2017, roughly 30% of our students reported a significant death that affects them. Based on feedback from the School Counseling Advisory Council and continued data support, subsequent years will continue to have a “Hope and Healing” group to address those in the grieving process.
When lessons were developed for the small groups, the data points used were both the ones used to build the Foundational Documents, grade level Mindsets and Behaviors, as well as the initial inventories from parents, teachers, and students. Formative assessments were conducted throughout the sessions to adjust lessons, maximizing psychoeducational instruction time.
Some factors to note are that formalized small groups were conducted more frequently in the elementary grades than the middle school grades, which only had one small group. To deliver better service next year, the Middle School Counselor will proactively plan for more small groups. She serves as both the Counseling Director and School Counselor for middle school students. She joined the staff at the end of October and spent a significant portion of time on the master schedule, student scheduling, Director Meetings, and reactively working with individual students, etc.. In moving forward for the next school year, the School Counseling Department will collaborate with the school psychologist and school social worker to triage higher need students, thus allowing more time for small group counseling. The counselors are also planning on a “K-8 Ambassador” group, a middle school leadership league, as well as starting a “No Place for Hate” committee.
Formal reports (see various GRIPs) were written for many of the small groups conducted, to continually practice reflecting on the implications for the school counseling program. They communicated completion of different activities throughout the year and School Counseling Department’s impact on students and the school. Administrators valued the accountability and the reference to data on a regular basis because it enabled them to advocate for us at a division level, as well as assisted in maintaining our agreed upon time allocations. Very rarely did the administrators make requests of the counseling team that were outside of best practice for counselor responsibilities because they could regularly see the difference we were making.
In reflecting on the overall School Counseling Program, both counselors see an increased need for groups, particularly in the fall to proactively address at-risk students. If some of their needs are met and skills are developed at the beginning, it may set them up for more success as the school year progresses. To that end, coordinating Holiday Help will become a task for service organizations within the school rather than the school counselors’ responsibilities. This will free up a good portion of time so small groups can begin earlier in the school year. Additionally, collaborating and coordinating with other mental health providers in the building will also help to ensure that students’ needs are being met in the most effective and efficient way.