National School Counseling Week celebrated by the Morgan County School District Re-3 Board of Education as district counselors are recognized for their work

  • From the podium, Baker Elementary School Counselor Matthew McClain addresses the board. (Photo courtesy)

  • Left to right: Lincoln High School counselor Zoe Sowers stands alongside Fort Morgan High School counselors Amy Prouty, Ryan Einspahr and Traci Reeves. (Photo courtesy)

The Re-3 Morgan County Board of Education held a regular meeting on Monday, February 7 at 7:00 p.m. where board members had the opportunity to hear from school advisors in the district. National School Counseling Week runs from February 7th to 11th, so counselors have been invited to give a special presentation to kick off the week.

The Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Assessment, Dr. Rena Frasco, read a proclamation declaring the week national school counseling week, detailing the impact counselors are having on their students.

After reading the proclamation, Frasco said, “I have the luxury of working with these school counselors sometimes on a daily basis. Monthly we meet and just talk about strengths and supports that we have in our community and as resources.”

Baker Elementary School counselor Matthew McClain took the microphone to also express his appreciation before each counselor introduced themselves.

“I know Rena (Frasco) has said she can work with us, but we are very, very happy that she has endorsed and supported us all the time. We couldn’t do our jobs without them, and we also really appreciate our caretakers in our buildings and their support of our programs and what we do with the children,” McClain said. “The theme of this year’s American School Counselor Association National School Counseling Week is ‘Better Together,’ and our team is definitely better together. We work very well even in stressful situations, so I feel very, very honored to work with these people.”

Fort Morgan High School Advisors Traci Reeves, Ryan Einspahr and Amy Prouty first introduced themselves and paid tribute to the fourth FMHS Advisor, Marcy Wolff, who was unable to attend the session.

Lincoln High School counselor Zoe Sowers then introduced herself.

Next, the other three elementary school counselors introduced themselves: Kelly Bellendir (Green Acres Elementary School), Lisa Conte (Columbine Elementary School), Trey Payne (Pioneer Elementary School).

Cassandra Eckstrom, one of two counselors at Fort Morgan Middle School (FMMS), introduced herself and her colleague Audra Unrein, who was unable to attend the meeting.

Kristy Hoffman, the Kindergarten Counselor at Sherman Early Childhood Center, concluded the introductions.

McClain returned to the microphone and noted that when he began working in the district in 2005, there were only six advisors. By 2021, that number has almost doubled to 11. He then shared information about the Colorado School Counselor Corps Grant Program (SCCGP), which allowed all four elementary schools in the district to have full-time counselors.

For the Counselor Corps Grant, data was collected from students, teachers and parents to better understand the needs and desires of the district’s elementary school students. Board members received a handout containing eight of the charts generated from the data, although hundreds were generated in total.

  • During the first year of Colorado’s School Counselor Corps Grant Program (SCCGP), data from student surveys at the district’s four elementary schools were presented to the Board of Directors. (Photo courtesy)

  • During the first year of Colorado’s School Counselor Corps Grant Program (SCCGP), data from student surveys at the district’s four elementary schools were presented to the Board of Directors. (Photo courtesy)

Payne shared the three goals written for the scholarship, which covered academic, socio-emotional, and career and post-secondary topics.

The first objective was that all students (first through fifth grades) should increase their instructional hours in executive functions from one to four per year. Executive functioning topics include skills related to planning, organization, memorization, focus, and listening.

The second goal was to have all students participate in research-based full social-emotional learning (SEL) interventions, increasing the baseline from 16% to 20%. Through interventions, they have been established to provide specific and targeted skills to promote SEL awareness, improve psychological well-being, and promote academic success.

The third goal was to increase vocational school classes from one to two per year. To achieve this goal for first and second grade students, the grant enabled the purchase of a computer program called Paws in Jobland, which allows younger students to explore different careers in the computer lab during the month of April.

McClain shared that one of the benefits of having full-time counselors in each elementary school building is the opportunity for them to work together and ensure that all of the district’s elementary school students are learning the same lessons each month. He also shared that the first semester of the 2021-22 school year was reaching over 91% of students each month.

Frasco read a few statements from school administrators about what it’s like to now have full-time counselors in their schools:

“Having a full-time consultant was an absolute game changer. It’s like the missing piece of the puzzle. The day-to-day support we are able to give to both students and staff is incredible.”

“Having a full-time counselor has been one of the greatest achievements in the district. I’m glad we can appropriately and timely address students whose behavior has recently escalated.”

“Having a full-time consultant has opened up a lot more opportunities compared to last year. There is an immediate impact on the students… very grateful for the impact on the school and community.”

Counselors from other buildings were then invited to report on what was happening in their schools.

Hoffman spoke about what was going on at the Sherman Early Childhood Center. In addition to meeting with students in small groups and individually, she offers a 30-minute counseling session to each kindergarten classroom once a month. Some of the topics she has covered so far relate to things like friendships, gossip, and kindness.

Eckstrom spoke about the events at FMMS and the lasting impact of Capturing Kids’ Hearts.

“This year we really wanted to focus on the relationships we have with our children. We did an activity where each team of teachers went through the entire list of kids and really thought, “How well do I know these kids? Who do I not know well at all?’ We’re really urging them to continue with this … get to know some of these kids a little better so we can really nurture some of our relationships,” Eckstrom said.

Sowers told the board about last week’s Power Up for Success Day, Lincoln’s college and career prep day. Throughout the day, the students participated in mock interviews, learned how to create resumes and cover letters, and listened to presentations from various guest speakers.

Nineteen guest speakers attended the event, as did ten college and military recruiters from across the state. Each speaker gave a 20-minute career presentation covering careers from construction worker to probation officer. Students were interviewed prior to the event to gather information about specific career interests and whether their future plans included college, the military or entering the workforce.

FMHS consultants reported to the board on some successes of the past semester. During graduation week, they hosted a Cocoa with Counselors event to ensure their students know where the counseling centers are located. They also make a point of meeting with each and every one of their students individually.

During the freshman semester, Reeves and Prouty met with the seniors to discuss future plans. This semester they meet with the juniors to ensure they are prepared for senior year and understand all of their instructional options at both FMHS and Morgan Community College. Wolff and Einspahr continue to meet with the ninth and tenth grade students throughout the year.

FMHS Counselors also teach a semester-long mental health course that raises awareness and teaches students how to recognize symptoms of a mental health crisis and take steps to ensure that someone struggling with a mental health problem gets the get the right help.

“So you can hear the impact is big for students and the reach is huge… the work we’re doing is something we care deeply about,” McClain said.

Frasco concluded the special presentation with information on how money from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) is being used to provide outside care.

The district was able to hire two outside therapists at the secondary school, as well as Jillian Deganhart from the Center for Trauma and Attachment (CHTA) in Brush. Deganhart offers weekly yoga therapy at Baker, art therapy at Green Acres, and even occasionally holds yoga and mindfulness training sessions for employees.

The students gave only positive feedback. However, data and reviews show that the need for outside intervention remains high.

“Our job as school counselors is to help our students in short-term, solution-focused brief therapy using therapeutic techniques. These students who have been referred (to outside therapists) need more intervention than we would offer,” McClain said.

Aiming to reach all students, much of the outside care and intervention is provided for students in more intense situations dealing with things like abuse, parental loss, suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety, anger management, trauma and more.

The Board expressed its appreciation to the advisors for their hard work and dedication, especially after the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the students in particular.

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