REGION—This year, February 4-8 is National School Counseling Week (NSCW), a chance “...to focus public attention on the unique contribution of school counselors within the U.S. school systems,” states the American School Counselor Association (ASCA).

Titled “School Counselors: Providing Lessons for Life,” NSCW aims to present the powerful effect counselors have on student development and preparation for life after graduation.

To highlight local school counseling efforts, The Wayne Independent met with elementary school counselor Erica Germani, counseling intern Heidi Evans and Kindergarten teacher Julie Farley from Western Wayne's Robert D. Wilson (RDW) school, and Honesdale High School (HHS) counselors Amy Neugebauer, Paige Pinto and Paul Reiprich.

Elementary counseling

“School counselors historically have had inconsistent job descriptions,” said Erica Germani, counselor for Robert D. Wilson Elementary School in the Western Wayne School District. “Depending on what district you're in, depending on what type of administrator you have, you could be anything from a little mini mental health clinic to almost like a quasi-administrator.”

Germani noted there is a push toward proactive rather than reactive counseling in burgeoning models and programs.

Germani noted the more proactive a program is, the better it can help prevent social/emotional issues, attendance issues and dropouts.

Basing RDW's program on the ASCA national model, Germani explained there is a greater presence of counseling in the classroom looking to establish fundamentals of academic excellence, social/emotional interaction and career-oriented thinking.

“From Kindergarten all the way up to 12th Grade, we are supporting students in their development in those three areas,” Germani said.

She later added, “My goal is when they're still young and malleable, to teach them as much as I possibly can that's going to help them be resilient, love to learn, and have a plan for the future.”

Evans added, at the elementary level, “We want them to be primed with social and emotional skills...,” which the students can put in their “tool belt” to use later in their education and in life.

The foundation materials are presented through several delivery methods, including in-classroom lessons, face-to-face counseling when needed, and group assemblies.

“We have our guidance lessons,” said Germani. “We have support groups. We're doing individual counseling with students.”

Between the 12 classrooms at RDW, Germani noted she meets with all the students in lessons once or twice per month.

Of the lessons, Farley noted, “I think it's nice because … all the lessons are things I want to teach my kids, but with the curriculum being so packed, it's nice that she can teach it to them ... They can learn it, pick it up and use it ... basically anywhere.”

The foundations and delivery system are tested through a cycle of management systems and data-based accountability measures to assess their efficacy and adjust as needed.

Germani stated the goals is to have a comprehensive program at all levels teaching important life skills and career readiness.

The counseling program at RDW was recently honored with the Recognized ASCA Model Program (RAMP) certification for its adherence to the national model.

It is one of only six schools in Pennsylvania to have the certification.

RDW will have the certification for five years, at which point it will need to reapply.

High School counseling

“You wear a lot of hats,” said Pinto of being a school counselor, “And you come in with an agenda every day and you think you know what you're going to get accomplished, but then you could have a kid in crisis...so that becomes your priority.”

“You have to be a good multi-tasker,” added Reiprich, noting there is not infrequently a lot of running between tasks.

Despite how crazy it may get, Neugebauer noted one of the best parts about the job is “...seeing how the students change from Freshman year and watching them reach their goals and hearing about their success.”

Counselors at HHS have a hand in guiding students through course selection, creating the school's master schedule, teaching guidance classes and helping students work through difficulty among myriad other duties.

Receiving particular attention at HHS is realization of the statewide 339 plan, a K-11 interest profiler, and a new cross-curricular career-readiness initiative.

“We have the students work on pieces of evidence that shows that they are researching a career in the field that they chose,” explained Reiprich.

Pieces of evidence include things like the annual Career Fair and a smart borrowing presentation made by a representative from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).

Through a series of assessments, students are hopeful to find “...not only a career that they're good at, but that they're interested in based on their likes and dislikes and their skills,” Reiprich added.

The 339 plan has been in effect since 2010 and the career readiness initiative is expected to be in full operation this school year, explained Neugebauer.

This sense of career-mindedness extends into the students' course selections.

“When they're picking their classes, we try to make sure that they're picking classes that are going to hep further their career choice,” said Reiprich.

For those unsure of a specific career, classes are divided into certain career pathways to help guide them.

“We've broken down all of the classes in our high school to fit into the pathways one way or another,” explained Pinto. For example, she added, “If you're going to go into arts and humanities, here's maybe ten electives you should be thinking about taking.”

She noted the goal is to have students identify a career pathway by Freshman year.

Neugebauer explained some of these pathways include healthcare occupations, agriculture, carpentry, business administration and accounting.

This all plays an important role in helping the counselors aid the students in selecting their courses and planning their schedules.

Based on potential career choices, students are matched up with mentors to help them through a career research project required for graduation.

“We're doing whatever we can to make sure that not only guidance but teachers within the building are also mentoring to the students and having those conversations about future careers and goals,” said Pinto.

REIP.-- Everything goes through us...We're like an intermediary between students and parents and teachers and administrators, outside agencies.

I like the fact that it's not boring. It's different every day. As a teacher, you might see [the students] once, maybe twice throughout their high school career. We see them throughout, from beginning to end.

NEU.--When nobody else knows what to do, it goes to the guidance counselor....Because we see the student as the whole person, so we know...

I love seeing how the students change from Freshman year and watching them reach their goals and hearing about their successes.

PINTO—It's controlled chaos. I love working with the students