When elementary school students begin class next Tuesday for the new 2018-19 school year, there will be an extra helping hand for those who may be struggling because of circumstances that make it hard to focus on learning.
As reported in last Thursday’s edition on page A2, the Tooele County School District has announced it will expand a counseling program at all of its 16 elementary schools.
Last year, the program had three elementary school counselors . But for this year, each elementary school will have a half-time counselor dedicated to work on social and emotional health.
In the story, Marianne Oborn, the school district’s social services and counseling director, indicated the expanded program’s intent is to reach out to students who are struggling socially and emotionally, from being bullied to having an unstable or challenging home life.
“You can’t expect a student to sit in a classroom and learn when their basic needs aren’t being met,” Oborn said.
What’s making the expanded program possible is a $250,000 grant from the state that was awarded to the school district a month ago. To stretch those dollars as much as possible, district officials chose to hire five additional elementary school counselors with degrees in educational counseling.
The team of eight counselors will now split their efforts between the district’s 16 elementary schools. Following a needs assessment at each school, the counselors will implement a school-based mental health program that can be modified to meet the needs of students.
That program uses social and emotional initiatives already in place by the school district, such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, Second Steps, the CHAMPS classroom management system, Professional Learning Communities, Teacher Assistant Team, and Individualized Education Plans.
Equipped with such initiatives, the counselors will help students with behavioral or emotional issues resulting from homelessness, death of a loved one, divorce and other factors that can disrupt a young student’s ability to learn the foundational elements that are needed to succeed in school — and life as well.
To achieve that goal, counselors will work in classrooms, with groups of students, and with individual students, according to Oborn.
School district superintendent Scott Rogers said the additional counselors is exciting news, because he believes the mental health of students is just as important as academic health.
We share in that belief. The emotional and mental health of students, whether it be a first-grader or senior in high school, should be a concern for school district officials and parents. Every reasonable effort should be made to prevent students who struggle with such issues from falling through the cracks while other students with less arduous backgrounds excel. For any student, feeling left behind is confusing and painful, with possible negative short and long term effects.
Placing additional counselors in elementary schools to help struggling students represents a deeper commitment by the school district to make programs available for students who may need an extra caring hand. Doing so will help such students cope, or even overcome, personal challenges that can get in the way of learning.