Cheston Elementary School (2019)

Easton, PA

Small Group Responsive Services


In the last two years, a startling number (12) of our students have experienced the loss of an immediate family member. An additional 12 identified students experienced the loss of an extended family member. This prompted the implementation of two grief groups this past year - one for 2nd and 3rd graders and one for 4th and 5th graders. Further, the demographics of my particular school - low socio-economic, high numbers of incarcerated parents, high numbers of mandated reports to the county Children and Youth agency - have indicated the need for interventions to provide a tight sense of belonging at school (M3) and to address the students' coping skills (SMS6) and ability to overcome barriers to learning (SMS7). Students are selected for these mentorship groups based on discipline data, attendance patterns, and a greater that average desire to speak with the school counselor. The resiliency building small groups meet weekly for the entire school year. The study skills group was selected based on report card data and my desire to take part in an academic intervention to evaluate for effectiveness.

The small group action plan is based on both the program goals for 2017-2018 of improving 4th graders report card grades, reducing the number of 5th grade office discipline referrals, and improving 5th grade attendance patterns, and on the department's vision and mission statements. My vision of all students possessing the skills and attitudes to be healthy, well-adjusted, and contributing members of their families and society is furthered through the mentorship/resiliency building groups, the grief groups, and the coping with stress group.

The content of the grief group as enumerated on the results report below was chosen to meet the students' social/emotional needs of learning coping skills, helping them to manage the transition in family configuration and added responsibilities that come with the changed family dynamic, and to help them realize that peer support is present in the school setting and is helpful. The perception data as measured by a pre/post test does show that the students became more comfortable with sharing feelings with peers and with asking for help when needed.

It is clear from the results report that this small group, responding to the student needs brought about by family loss, yields positive results, most certainly in the perception of students in regards to reaching out to others, and even possibly in improvement in their attendance outcomes. This suggests that not only should this group be continued at the current grade levels, but it should potentially be expanded to include the younger grade levels as well. Some students who declined to participate in the group this year, may be more emotionally ready to participate in subsequent years and it would be worthwhile to continue to invite them.

It is important to note that sometimes interventions are worth implementing, even in the absence of clear evidence of attendance, achievement, or behavioral needs. As James Comer said, " No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship." When a group of students experiences great loss, they need to know that there are others who care and are there to support them. They need significant relationships and who is more appropriate at school to provide such a relationship than the school counselor. Thus, while I agree that data is worth collecting, analyzing, and reporting on, some issues transcend the data. Grief is one of those issues.

Group Name: Coping with Grief and Loss

Goal: To assist students is managing grief due to loss of a family member; to teach effective coping skills; to foster positive, supportive relationships with other students coping with similar transitions

Target Group: 4th and 5th graders who have experienced recent loss

Data Used to Identify Students: Teacher, parent, self-identified student reporting recent loss of family or friend

School Counselor(s): Melissa Sonnenblick

ASCA Domain, Mindsets & Behaviors Standard(s): Domain: social/emotional SMS7, SMS10, SS2

Outline of Group Sessions Delivered: Session 1 – Identifying Feelings Session 2 – What is Death and How Does it Happen? Session 3 – Feelings that Come with Loss Session 4 – The Importance of the Funeral Session 5 – A Personal Memorial Session 6 – Talking to Grieving People Session 7 – Healing Ourselves

Process Data (Number of students affected): Seven 4th and 5th grade students participated in (7) 30-minute sessions, held weekly in the school counseling office.

Perception Data (Surveys or assessments used): Students participated in a pre/post test, designed to measure changes in student attitudes and knowledge about coping with loss and their skills in empathizing with others and utilizing healthy coping skills. The largest positive changes in attitudes came in questions 4 and 7, both of which measured the standard SS2 (Creating positive and supportive relationships with other students). Students reported being 64% and 68% respectively more likely to share feelings with friends and to ask for help when they feel very bad after attending the group sessions.

Outcome Data (Achievement, attendance, and/or behavior data): Attendance data was analyzed for the two months prior to the group intervention and compared to the two months following the intervention. The total number of days absent prior to the group for the 7 targeted students was 11, equaling 29.7% of potential days. The total number of days absent post group intervention for the 7 targeted students was 4, equaling 9.5% of potential days. Therefore, the students' average number of days absent dropped by 20.2% following the intervention.

Implications: REVISED SECTION The data suggests that this small group intervention should be continued, as needed, due to the positive results. Most importantly, seven sessions seems sufficient to improve students' knowledge of coping skills and students' ability to connect with peers in a supportive manner - two of the targeted Mindset and Behavior Standards. There is strong perception data to support the continuation of such a group. Coincidentally, perhaps, some students' attendance improved following implementation of this grief group, thereby increasing their access to education. Perhaps, also, those students felt more connected to the school and thus were more likely to attend school during the group time frame. Outcome data may not specifically support the need for this group for these students. They did not all have attendance concerns, or behavioral concerns, or achievement concerns. However, ethically, providing a small counseling grief group for students who are emotionally impacted by the loss of a family member is the right thing to do. Perhaps behavioral data collection could be implemented to measure the number of days the students cry in school before and after the group intervention or the number of days the students lack focus before and after the group intervention. However, the timing of such data collection would be difficult. Regardless, in order to help my students be healthy and well-adjusted, as my vision states, I will continue to facilitate such a group, as the need arises, even without the attendance, achievement, or behavioral data to support the need.