“Thanks to the Board so much for creating more support definitions for the district, bringing in more school social workers, which has really helped enhance our department … and is really helping the students.”
Said Amanda Jones, director of counseling services for the Rome City School District in her presentation to the Rome Board of Education at its recent regular meeting.
Jones shared that in the Rome district historically, school counselors, especially at the elementary level, have been doing the work of both counselor and school social worker.
“That has been a huge burden for our department,” said Jones, “because they are trying to do both – and both is too much.”
The Rome district, in response to outcry to meet acute socio-emotional needs of students manifest in the experience of the pandemic, has approved the hiring of additional social workers and all such roles are now almost filled.
So, Jones shared, as some of that burden can now be lifted off of the school counselors, the work before her is partnering with the district to define
what both roles should now look like.
The district is reviewing guidance from the American School Counseling Association and the School Social Workers Association of New York State and delving deeply with both departments and district administrators to crystallize the most effective delineation of the two roles.
She predicts it will be a year-long process, maybe longer, in determining how the new paradigm is working with each district building.
The American Association of School Counselors recommends a ratio no larger than 250 students per one school counselor to achieve optimal impact of counseling services.
Currently, the national average is 424 students to one counselor. The New York State average is better — at 361 students to one counselor as of 2019 — but still a ways from meeting the desired mark.
“Right now, if you calculate our student population vs. school counselors, we have a ration of 260 to 1, so we’re really close,” said Jones.
“As a whole, we’re doing really well with this type of support for students; above and beyond what other districts are doing,” Jones added.
The director of counseling services offered members a bit of a primer in SRBI – Standard Research Based Intervention – when defining that school counselors customarily “live in a Tier 1 world,” with Tier 1 being the level where all students receive services – classroom-based group content – and primarily in career awareness and career guidance.
Where Tier 1 is the largest, widest level of the pyramid, grounded at the bottom and supporting the rest, school social workers engage at the top of the pyramid, meeting “the most intense needs” that students are experiencing.
They will both spend time with small groups of students, as
well as with individual students and their families, working to connect them with resources in the school and community and pulling all of these pieces together.
The simplest way to understand Tier 2 and Tier 3 is to see Tier 2 as students who are pulled out of class or carved into small groups in class who are receiving specializing instruction or services.
Tier 2 represents about 15% of students. Tier 3 are students who likely have an Individualized Education Plan to meet very specific needs in very defined and measurable ways, where planning and placement
teams coordinating those efforts almost always include a school social worker and may – depending on the plan – include a
Jones sees Tier 2 as the place where counselors and social workers – and their respective roles come together … “in the middle.”
The district is also employing the “Second Step Program” to further enhance social emotional learning (SEL) and provide yet another tool in the toolboxes of counselors and social workers as they evolve into reimagined roles.
“Second Step is basically a family of socio-emotional learning programs, a universal, classroom-based curriculum to teach social-emotional skills to K-8 students,” said Jones.
Jones shared that Second Step is a curriculum of pre-recorded webinars that support students in building skills such as forging positive relationships, preventing bullying, growth mindset and creating and contributing to a caring culture.
The program also folds in trauma-sensitive practices when working with remote learners. It aligns with all of the standards upon which the Rome district counseling and social work departments base all of their work.
“It is a holistic approach,” said Jones of the Second Step program, “to building supportive communities for every child through social-emotional learning.”
Jones also provided the Board with a glance at some of the initiatives the Counseling Services Department have undertaken. One is enhancing career awareness at the K-6 level.
While one might more typically associate “career” guidance with high school students, Jones delineated career “exploration” - which begins in an introductory way in middle school, and becomes an key focus in high school – and career “awareness,” where Rome’s elementary students would be introduced … become aware … of different careers.
“All of the elementary students will be getting a career awareness lesson,” said Jones, who became aware of the program through “best practices” by the State of Georgia, which developed a state-wide career curriculum.
“It’s rich, diverse and touched upon a lot of topics,” said Jones.
Rome’s Counseling Services Department is also exploring a new tool to support students in career exploration.
The Naviance tool currently used by the district primarily for the college search and application process does have a career component, but Jones finds it to be “kind of clunky.”
“Naviance is front-facing, not engaging,” said Jones.
“So, we found this other option; we’ve seen some demos and we will be taking a deeper look for our seventh-graders this year,” she added.
Jones also reported that the School Counseling Department has authentically leaned into the district’s initiative to take on the issue of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).
She thanked Board of Education Member, Elena Cardwell-Reddick, for attending a recent advisory council meeting that focused on the topic and discussed the role of the school counselor under its umbrella. She shared that the American School Counselors Association has produced a series of professional development modules for faculty and staff and now have development specific to school counselors around the issue of DEI.
“This training is presented by a DEI specialist, it is free right now and it is self-paced,” said Jones.
“So, we have gathered a group of our counselors interested in the training who have committed to doing the course together and convening for discussions while they are in progress,” she said.
Jones shared a departmental practice where all of the school counselors in a given school building come up with a goal — a theme — that they will work toward individually and as a team throughout that school year.
This year, all of the counseling teams are focusing on an umbrella of DEI.
“They weren’t directed; it just fell into place,” said Jones. “The needs they were seeing throughout the buildings were around really helping students to get connected.”
Board members expressed their gratitude to Jones and her team for the important work they’re doing and asked her to keep them availed of any unmet needs, of how they can help.
Jones reminded the district through the board that “counselors are helpers.”
Other folks go to them for help – and not just students.
So, they absorb not only the energy the students are putting out, but also that of the staff and anyone else who turns to them because they see a helper.
“There’s been a lot of upheaval this year – sharing classrooms, sharing offices – people have lost their space and I think it’s really taking a toll on folks in the schools,” said Jones. “It’s hard. We’re doing the best we can.”
Jones crystallized the efforts of the school counselors to say that they work to identify where there is a need, and where do they need their capacity to be.
Concluded Jones, “You have to find a balance.”