Counselors focus on meaningful skills K-12

Counselors focus on meaningful skills K-12
Posted on 01/31/2017
The academic skills needed for a kindergartner versus a graduating senior vary greatly. So does the support from Lynden Schools. Even with vast variations, the district’s counseling department has those growing needs covered. With a comprehensive program that provides both skills and countless styles of support for every grade level, counselors at Lynden Schools work together to teach, encourage and champion the students K-12.

The plan starts with the K-5 program, where each elementary building has its own counselor entering the class for 30 to 40 minutes every week, heavily focused on teaching skills from anger management to problem solving and from social skills to stress management. But the needs don’t stop there. Along with the support for every student in the elementary grades with classroom instruction, counselors also put a focus on small groups—and even one-on-one meetings—to help students who need more skill building, says Isom counselor Elizabeth Grant.

As a district, says Erin Shaffer, who has worked as a counselor at the elementary, middle and now high school levels within the district, Lynden follows the American School Counselor Association K-12 comprehensive plan to ensure every grade level has its social, emotional and academic needs met. “There is future planning at every level and that is something that we have built in so we have a smooth transition and are developmentally appropriate at every level,” she says.

That transitioning starts before a student moves from fifth grade to the middle school. The middle school counselors, Laura Lupo and Coral Bartlett, drop into fifth grade classes and introduce the students to life at middle school, allowing them a free-flowing dialogue of questions and answers. “Sometimes fifth graders are scared (about the transition),” Bartlett says. “We dispel myths and reassure them.”

But it doesn’t stop there. When in middle school, Lupo and Bartlett work to create a community feeling, bringing together for the first time students from multiple elementary schools into one place. With set programs that allow counselors class time based on the push, the start of the school year puts a focus on community while January through March will highlight the Lion Pride effort on how to build a safe environment.

“Our kids are more into social media and we are talking a lot about your digital dossier, your footprint and being smart about that and safe,” Bartlett says.

“The counselors do well in connecting with new families and new students,” says Tim Metz, Lynden’s director of special programs. “They help with the transition school to school, but working with new kids and getting them welcomed is something they deal with much more than you would think.”

Along with the ongoing project-focused efforts, the counselors also provide small group support, work with Lynden’s Family Community Services to bring in outside support in needed cases, encourage continued skill building as done in the elementary schools and, by eighth grade, really place a heavier focus on the academic portion that continues to build as students transition into high school.

The middle and high school counselors work together on the transition from eighth to ninth grade, offering High School 101 as a way to introduce students to the high school environment. As freshman, students join into groups of about six to work with a junior or senior mentor to help them get going in the school, answer questions and provide insight.

The counselors, while still dealing with the same emotional and social issues found in elementary and middle school, also have a new focus on helping students prepare for life beyond high school. “How can we help you get the skills and fill your interests?” asks Shaffer, “and looking at scheduling is a big part, but it is looking at that individual and getting them a variety of experiences.”

LHS counselors work closely with the High School and Beyond Center and set up field trips to Bellingham Technical College, Whatcom Community College and Western Washington University’s college fair day. The counselors host college and career fairs at the high school and work with groups to provide financial aid informational nights.

Counselors enter the classrooms multiple times in the year to discuss interests and explore career choices, help students track credits, work off referrals for differing needs, promote inclusion in clubs and even help student-athletes ensure eligibility for the NCAA.

And every single LHS student has a personal plan. “We meet with every student one-on-one to talk about this,” says high school counselor Chris Elsner. “Although we are 850 students in size, we still meet with every student.”

That theme of individualized support remains strong throughout K-12. As the counselors work hard to support each other and make connections, they don’t take the important work of making positive connections with students lightly. They do it personally. For each and every student.