The Counseling Department at Sycamore is unique and innovative in design. As a high needs, title one school, with special education pre-k and self-contained Emotionally Behavior Disordered (EBD) classes, there are many needs. With the addition of one part time counselor last year, we decided to have our part time counselor, Mrs. Soloff, dedicated to servicing most small groups. This increased the breadth of students reached and depth of concepts covered to help support student needs. In this effort, our goal was to be preventative in nature, promote student leadership and focus on student connections to improve overall behavior and academic achievement. In total, the counseling department ran 37 small groups, impacting a total of 224 students in 2017-2018.
As a department, we gathered attendance, behavior and academic data for 2016-2017. From this, our initial small group interventions were developed. The small groups were as follows; students in grades 1st-5th who missed 10+ days of school in the previous year, those in grades 1st-5th who had 2+ Office Disciple Referrals (ODRs) , and those in grades 4 & 5 whom scored a Level 1 on the English Language Arts 2017 Georgia Milestones. We placed a precise focus on Level 1 English Language Learner students in an effort to close the achievement gap. Additionally, we focused on the Student Engagement Inventory (SEI), a Gwinnett County perception survey given to students in grades 3-5, measuring school engagement. The lowest 10% of engaged students served as Peer Leaders and worked with our FLAMES program to increase connections, engage with caring adults, and give leadership opportunities. When the first round of groups concluded, teachers could refer students, students were identified via current discipline reports, SST referrals, and those who scored in the lowest 10% on the SEI. All students were invited to join via parent permission slip to help parents understand and support the groups.
Our population has a high number of students in foster care and a large number of students who have experienced trauma. This knowledge guided the topics selected for small groups. Additionally, activities were delivered through the lens of Adlerian Counseling Theory and the tenants of Play Therapy. Groups were titled School Success with an attendance, behavior or academic focus. This allowed the coverage of a broad range of topics to help students develop ASCA mindsets and behaviors. Groups purpose was to create academic success and have students feel like they belong, had confidence in their ability to succeed and understand the importance mental, social/emotional and physical well-being.
The lesson plan content for Testing Taking Boot Camp Small Group was driven by ASCA Mindest 5, Behavior Learning Strategy 3, and the Behavior Self-Management Skill 6. Focusing on these foundational skills, the goal was to help students build the capacity for learning and develop soft-skills for career-readiness.
Perception data gathered from pre-post assessments show that students increased their knowledge, skills, and attitudes regarding test taking strategies, feelings of confidence in self, and ability to deal with testing related nervousness and calm down. The highest improvement, 25%, was confidence in ability to do well on tests. There was no change in the number of students who reported knowing ways to prepare for tests. The SEI showed 14 of 21 students showed improved scores in the Intrinsic Motivation domain, with an average of 2 points (60%) improvement. Outcome data indicates that of the 21 of 4th and 5th grade EL students who scored a level 1 on the 2016-2017 ELA Milestones, 12 of those students (57%) improved their score to a Level 2 on the 2017-2018 ELA Milestones.
This data shows that student attitudes were impacted but skills and knowledge show areas for improvement, specifically learning strategies. In reflection, we will collaborate with grade level teachers to better understand academic rigor, student’s current performance, and target Milestones test questions and preparation. Conferencing more with teachers about how the students function academically and socially will benefit small group delivery.
One of the biggest challenges is time. Additionally, scheduling is difficult due to students receiving additional academic supports. The department constantly reflects on what we can do, with fidelity and consistency, knowing these scheduling hurdles. Some things to increase fidelity and consistency are to continue using non-academic times, such as lunch and morning arrival and to advocate for less non-counselor duties. Regardless of time constraints, we are confident our interventions send students on a different trajectory that results in academic engagement, peer connection and success in school leading to college and career readiness.