Counselor’s advisory group discusses importance of staying connected with students during COVID-19 crisis

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School Counseling Advisory Group Virtual Meeting: May 13, 2020

  • Currently, summer camps and activities for Kentucky’s children appear to be unlikely to happen. These camps and other summer activities provide students with social and emotional support.
  • This year, more so than ever, in addition to an academic summer slide, Kentucky’s school counselors are worried about an emotional and mental health one.

By Jacob Perkins
Jacob.perkins@education.ky.gov

The Kentucky Department of Education’s (KDE) School Counselor Advisory Council (SCAC) met virtually May 13 and stressed the importance of not only staying connected with students as they complete the 2019-2020 school year but also remaining connected throughout the summer.

Damien Sweeney, KDE’s program coordinator for comprehensive school counseling, and Miriam Silman, the trauma-informed care program administrator for the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, discussed behavioral health considerations for students and staff members both during remote learning and once school buildings reopen. Sweeney reviewed sources of stress and signs of stress, and Silman spoke on the importance of building resilience.

“Something that we’ve really started talking about at our school is supporting our at-risk students, especially through the summer,” said Oldham County Middle School Counselor Kyle Thomas. “We have three counselors at our middle school and we’re really ramping it up to make sure we’re staying connected through the summer.”

Thomas said that once the Oldham County Middle School students have completed the school year, he and his colleagues will begin planning on ways to stay connected with them during the summer to keep an eye on whether they are staying emotionally healthy.

Currently, summer camps and activities for Kentucky’s children appear to be unlikely happen due to COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings. These camps and other summer activities provide students with social and emotional support. The SCAC raised concerns over this loss of connection as well as counselors being given the time to address the needs of students whenever in-person classes resume.

“I realize when we go back it will be an all-hands-on-deck situation,” said Sharon Todd, school wellness counselor for Danville Independent. “But I really hope that we can work with KDE and maybe KASA (Kentucky Association for School Administrators) to ensure that our school counselors are, in fact, available for psychological safety. … I’m really concerned that as of right now, school counselors aren’t available in the way that they need to be.”

Summer Learning
Due to the COVID-19 crisis and schools having to implement extended non-traditional instruction, summer slide – a phrase used to describe the slide backward academically that many children experience over the summer – is a greater concern than most years.

 “Now we’re starting to transition into summer and I know that you as counselors are always very concerned about the well-being of your students when they’re not with you. To prolong that is unsettling, and rightfully so,” said KDE Associate Commissioner Amanda Ellis.

As a way to offer support for families, KDE has launched a series of Summer Support webpages in partnership with The Children’s Reading Foundation and the Summer Food Service Program that contain learning resources for both literacy and mathematics.

“This is not an academic approach. It’s a very family-friendly approach,” explained Ellis.

CARES Act funding
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act, which was signed into law March 27, allocates $30.75 billion in emergency education funding to states. Kentucky will receive about $223 million – an amount equal to about 4% of Kentucky’s annual education budget – for K-12 education from two sources:

  • $193.2 million from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), which is intended to provide local education agencies with emergency relief funds to address the impact of COVID-19 on elementary and secondary schools.
  • $30 million of Kentucky’s $43.8 million share of the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, which is designed to enable the nation’s governors to decide how best to meet their states’ K-12 and higher education needs.

KDE Associate Commissioner Robin Kinney suggested that funds, specifically from the GEER Fund, be used to improve remote learning under non-traditional instruction and technology overall. She added that GEER funding also could be distributed to continue providing food service to children.

KDE released a guidance document May 12 to support district leaders in administering GEER fund allocations; a similar document on the ESSER fund will be released later this week.

According to Kinney, ESSER funds have very broad uses. For counselors specifically, these funds can be used for social and emotional well-being and mental health supports.

“I encourage you to talk with your superintendent, your local central office staff and your principal about ways that the CARES Act funding could help support the critical mission that school counselors perform,” said Kinney.

Formed in 2018, the SCAC is designed to provide the Commissioner of Education direct input from counselors who serve in Kentucky public schools. Bridging the gap between policy and practice, the SCAC advises the commissioner on educational priorities that meet the needs of the whole child.

The council encourages discussion and feedback from the field about topics that will lead to the improvement of Kentucky public schools and the opportunity they afford students.

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