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The role of counselors and student support services at RCS

student and counselor sit at a desk and smile at the camera
High School Counselor, Laraine Gell works with a student.

Counselors from each Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk school presented to the board of education on Oct. 3 with three goals in mind; they wanted to increase awareness of the role of a school counselor, share the process and review the components of a Developmental School Counseling Program, and discuss the department’s vision for the future.

group of students standing outside a building at Siena College
Students explore Siena College.

The vision of the counseling department is for all students to graduate from high school prepared to achieve their goals. Their mission, is to support, educate and advocate for all students through social/emotional, academic and career counseling, three elements fundamental to their work.

The presentation also highlighted the role of the school counselor and how it has evolved over the years. Counselors are no longer purely advisors, now, they provide academic, personal/social, career and college support through carefully designed activities to all students through a school counseling program.

Counselor standing in front of the class, presenting.
A.W. Becker Counselor, Thomas Trainor works with student in the classroom.

They not only provide counseling, as their title suggests, but also act as educators, leaders, student advocates, consultants, and much more. Their work with children requires collaboration, integration of new technology and is focused on helping students, creating systemic change with data-driven results.

“Our vision is for all students to graduate high school prepared to achieve their goals,” RCS High School Counselor, Peter Dwyer said.

Standards-Based Program

Like school instructional staff, school counselors are held to professional standards. The RCS PK-12 Comprehensive School Counseling Program is a standards-based plan that lines up with Career Development and Occupational Standards, New York State Education Department Commissioner regulations, and the RCS board of education’s mission goals. The department has also been working with the New York State School Counselors Association to update their plan at also align with the ASCA standards.

“Along with aligning our program and curriculum to ASCA and CDOS standards, we wanted to ensure that everything we do has purpose, intention and continuity,” middle school counselor Ken Blaire said.

The group meets on a regular basis to discuss current and professional standards as they relate to the plan in order to further support student achievement and increase the graduation rate.

Five major program areas

  • Attendance
  • Behavior
  • Transition
  • Career
  • College Planning

“We took a closer look at our comprehensive counseling curriculum and We felt these five areas were pertinent to all RCS students and linked to the ultimate goal of having every student graduate.” Pieter B. Coeymans counselor Christa LaFranier said.

Counseling at the Elementary Level

Counselor present to students, all sitting on floor
Pieter B. Coeymans counselor Christa LaFranier engages a group of elementary students.

Elementary counseling provides the foundation skills for learning and teaching students the prerequisite skills needed to achieve success. Students are taught school readiness skills and strategies including: listening, focusing attention, and following directions, as well as coping skills to identify feelings, manage worry and calm down. Students also learn how to demonstrate empathy and solve problems using steps that are practiced grades k-5. Using a spiral curriculum, students hone and deepen their knowledge of these skills from kindergarten through fifth grade.

The counselors use of the Second Step Program, allowing them to provide a common curriculum between both elementary buildings. This evidence-based curriculum has been shown to decrease problem behaviors and works to build a school wide culture of learning.

Counseling at the Middle School Level

Counselor speaks to a class
Middle School counselor Ken Blair speaks to students.

As students transition to middle school, counselors focus on the students’ transition to becoming a teenager and gaining independence. Some common fears students have include how they will get their locker open, what to do if they get lost in the school and if they will get in trouble.

To help ease the nerves of incoming students, counselors hold several events to help students adjust to the middle school, including, parent night and summer orientation, where students can test their locker and do a practice walk through of their school day. The transition program centers around easing concerns of parents and students not only entering the middle school but also going into the high school. Counselors have found that when students can start school with less concerns, they are able to focus more on instruction and get more out their classes which certainly helps maintain our graduation goals.

Counselors also provide classroom instruction, working with students to explore career and college options as well as provide character education instruction about rumors and gossip, internet safety and cyberbullying.

Counseling at the High School

Counselor standing in front of class
High School Counselor, Peter Dwyer works with a group of students.

Transition programs are also in place in the high school for grades 8-9 and 9-10 and focus on helping students and parents learn about the program course options and graduation requirements. Counseling curriculum is implemented in various ways, including classroom presentations by the counselors. In these presentations students learn about transitioning, course selection and academic opportunities, career and technical education, career exploration, standardized testing, the college admissions process, and financial aid. Counselors also design and host information nights for students and families on these topics.

Email blasts, Counseling Center newsletters and conferences are other examples of how the counselors reach students and families. Each year, they also take students to visit a college campus and and attend a college fair.

“Importantly, over the course of four years we develop relationships with the students and families we serve,” high school counselor, Laraine Gell said. “We meet with students individually, and we consult and collaborate with teachers and families to help to sculpt a meaningful high school program that prepares students to launch into their lives beyond high school.”

Plan for the future

After careful analysis of the counseling program to identify areas of focus, counselors created the following action plan steps:

  • Increase participation in professional development and collaboration
  • Expand Naviance/Career Program
  • Explore data collection tools and resources
  • Develop program assessment options
  • Follow a customer service model
    • Create and convene a School Counseling Advisory Committee
    • Participate in the District Stakeholder Survey
  • Effectively communicate with our stakeholders
  • Dedicate time to departmental goals and to address ongoing programmatic needs