By Jennifer Wohlleb
Getting students college, career and life ready involves more than just providing good academics in the classroom.
“We were seeing that we were making strong academic gains, but in order to stay on track with that, we knew we had to look at ways to support the whole child,” said Connie Pohlgeers, Campbell County Schools’ director of School Improvement and Community Education. “When I say that, I mean the personal/social aspect, wraparound services, support services to their academics.”
Using their district motto, “Whatever it takes,” Campbell County school leaders created the Comprehensive School Counseling Program.
“We place great importance on having a shared knowledge of our students,” Pohlgeers said, “because when they make the transition from elementary to middle and then middle to high, it’s important for students who have specific needs – other than academic – to have their information passed on to the next group of educators so that they can prepare accordingly.”
PHOTO: Julia Gorman, a counselor at Campbell Ridge Elementary, works with a kindergarten class using Student Success Skills, a K-12 evidence-based program that helps students develop key cognitive, social and self-management skills. Photo provided by Campbell County Schools
The program has been so successful it has earned KSBA’s Public Education Achieves in Kentucky (PEAK) Award. The PEAK Award, given twice yearly, was established in 1997 to focus statewide attention on outstanding public school efforts that enhance student learning skills and promote the positive impact of public elementary and secondary education in Kentucky.
“The scope – for all schools – support and funding is impressive,” said PEAK judge Cherie Dimar, president-elect of the Kentucky PTA. “The results show improvement in academics, and social/emotional and career areas.”
For five years, Campbell County has had a district-level administrator in charge of coordinating the program. One of its biggest successes has been adding counselors to the district, lowering the student-to-counselor ratio to 232:1, below the national recommendation of 250:1. During that time, discipline referrals have dropped, attendance has risen and math and reading proficiency has increased.
The district successfully pursued grants from the U.S. Department of Education, which have enabled it to add nine new counselors to the staff. Two of the grants were for half-time positions, and Pohlgeers said the Campbell County Board of Education provided the money to make those positions full time.
Campbell County Schools Board of Education Chairwoman Janis Winbigler said she and her fellow board members ascribe to meeting the needs of the whole child, which is why they decided to make those half-time positions full time.
“We talk about academic gaps a lot, but we felt like there were some emotional gaps,” she said. “And to be able to better address their emotional needs and help them to be successful academically and remove barriers, we felt like the only way to do that was to lower that ratio and provide more counselors and make them available to our students. And to free up our teachers and our administrators to work more on the academic part, by providing them more resources in terms of the counselors to meet the other needs of the students.”
Pohlgeers said having more hands available has allowed that.
“Because of reduced counselor-to-student ratios, they are able to meet with students one on one,” she said. “Whether it’s college planning or it’s a student who has a specific learning need, students are able to receive more individualized attention because we have more counselors.”
Pohlgeers said the additional counselors have helped the district better collect and use data.
“We wanted to make sure that the services we were providing were indeed working,” she said. “So we began our approach to evidence-based counseling, where we use data on a regular basis to determine the programming and whether or not we’re meeting the needs of our students.”
The district made sure everyone was on the same page.
“We began by ensuring all of our school counselors and family resource center coordinators had a true understanding of what we meant by evidence-based counseling.” Pohlgeers said. “We were used to, as a district, making data-based decisions a priority when it came to academics. We were confident in our teachers’ skills with this and our natural next step was to work with our counselors and family resource center coordinators on the same approach.”
Brooke Leffingwell, a fourth-grade teacher at Crossroads Elementary, said in addition to individual and group counseling for students, the counselors provide teachers with up-to-date research and data, and needs assessment of students. They lead programs such as Student Success Skills, which helps students develop cognitive, social and self-management skills; and Second Steps, which helps students with problem-solving skills and managing their emotions.
“With counseling services like the ones mentioned, our students are making great growth not only socially, but in academics as well,” Leffingwell wrote in support of her district’s nomination. “Students are learning test-taking strategies and learning the power of positive thinking to help them achieve academically.”
Cline Elementary fifth-grader Anna Morris said Student Success Skills has had a big impact on her life and that of fellow students, and they use these skills daily.
“We go to this class once a week and learn things like social skills (empathy, encouragement), learning skills (goal setting, memory), and self-management skills (positive self talk, life skills),” she wrote. “These things help boost our confidence and our working skills.”
– The deadline for entering a program for the next PEAK Award is Oct. 1. Click here for or more information about the KSBA PEAK Award.