For most of our students, graduating from college, let alone high school, is a new mindset. Most of our underserved student population is coming in with limited academic and social-emotional skills.
Since we're an Early College high school, the counselors at Trinidad Garza understand that our students need to be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to thrive not only in their high school classes, but also in their college courses and environment. In bridging this gap, we've developed support systems to prepare students emotionally and academically.
Counselors use the daily study hall periods embedded into the master schedule to offer one of three supports, depending on our students' needs:
- Whole-class guidance lessons
- Small-group work
- One-on-one counseling
1. Whole-Class Guidance Lessons
There are seven core guidance lessons that counselors teach every year during study hall. Each lesson takes a whole 55-minute period and includes a PowerPoint developed by a counselor to meet a campus-wide need. The below topics outline the core ninth-grade guidance lessons:
1. Anti-Harassment: We define both bullying and cyberbullying, discuss the actions that students can take if they become a victim or bystander of bullying, and address the consequences for those committing the bullying.
2. Anti-Victimization and Internet Safety: Students are taught to be careful of whom they befriend online, the importance of not posting too much personal information on the internet, and to be cautious when posting pictures, comments, or videos in the cyber world since they can be hard to erase and detrimental in the long run.
3. Higher Education and Career Awareness: We go over FASFA, GPA, SAT, and transferability, as well as navigating the internet to find out more about colleges and degrees offered. We look at the annual salary that one could potentially earn with a high school diploma and a Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctoral degree.
4. Wellness: We provide tools to manage the various responsibilities of being a student, like stress management and test anxiety. We also discuss healthy relationships and peer pressure.
5. Student Agency: We discuss the importance of embracing our uniqueness and accepting ourselves for who we are. In addition, we also dive into problem-solving skills applicable both in and outside of the school setting.
6. Teen Dating Violence: We address the importance of respecting your own body, as well as having your significant other respect you. We go over different scenarios of what is and isn't considered a healthy relationship.
7. Dual Credit: We discuss college lingo -- like GPA, TSI, blackboard, academic standing, and transferability -- and we go over what it means to be enrolled in dual-credit courses.
Inform Your Lessons With Surveys
We administer a survey to parents, teachers, and students during the first six weeks of school. From a list of 15 topics ranging from coping with stress to academic planning, they're asked to rate the five that are most important for student learning. They're welcome to add additional topics as well. The surveys become a guide to help prepare lessons and prioritize the topics that our parents, teachers, and students felt were most important.
Additionally, students reply "No," "I don't know," and "Yes" to a series of statements such as:
- When I'm at school, I feel safe.
- I'm preparing myself for my future career and/or college goals.
- I feel comfortable talking to my counselor if I ever need to.
Use Key Questions to Check for Understanding
We begin each lesson with questions to gauge students' level of prior knowledge and understanding. For example, here's how we've introduced the topic of wellness:
- What are some words that you can think of when I say the word wellness?
- Is knowing how to deal with stress in a healthy way part of having a healthy mind? What about healthy relationships?
- Share some of the areas that are crucial to having a healthy mind and being successful in the goals you set for yourself. (Example: being able to manage stress without feeling super overwhelmed.)
Classroom Activity: One way that we introduce these questions is by writing them on a beach ball. We'll throw the ball into the air, and the student who catches it reads one of the questions.
Include Media Relevant to Students' Experience
When we choose visuals for presentations, we choose media that our students can relate to. In our latest presentation, we included "I Am Home," a short clip from the movie Freedom Writers.
Resource: A great resource for obtaining appropriate and relatable videos that I personally use is WingClips.
We chose "I Am Home" to introduce the topic of bullying, discussing how many of us are dealing with personal challenges outside of school. And like the boy's classmates in this clip, many of us don't know each other's circumstances. For some, school might feel like a safer place than their home. After connecting the story and our students' own lives, we often ask them to put themselves in the protagonist's shoes through scenarios, like the following:
Upon arriving at school, the boy you just saw in the video is bullied. The place that he considered his safe home is no longer that. We then ask our students:
- How would you feel if that was you?
- Do you think the students who are bullying realize the extent of the damage that they're creating?
- Do you think the students who are bullying would have acted differently if they knew his personal circumstances?
The media clip is our jumping-off point to further dive into the topic with questions like:
- What can we do as a school to address bullying from a victim and a bystander perspective?
End With an Exit Ticket
All presentations end with a student feedback form that counselors use to identify what the students took away from the lesson and if they felt it was presented effectively. We ask them to write about two things that they learned and provide a space for additional comments. We also have them circle "Strongly disagree," "Disagree," "Agree," and "Strongly agree" based on the following statements:
- The topic was Important.
- The lesson was interesting.
- I will be able to use what I learned to help me in the future.
2. Small-Group Work
Small groups meet privately during study hall, typically in the counselor's office. We group students based on an area of need ranging from academic to personal and social, such as conflict resolution, stress management, and self-management skills. Each group consists of three to five students who have been identified by a parent, staff, or themselves as needing additional support.
The groups formed this semester focused on developing study habits. The area of need -- along with the students selected -- were pre-identified by the Garza Intervention Team (GIT). This team is composed of staff members whose primary goal is addressing student needs and setting interventions in place.
Student groups meet four to six times weekly for 30 minutes. The first meeting's agenda is defining the purpose of the group and establishing these norms:
- Be respectful and confidential.
- Be an active participant.
- Encourage one another. No put-downs.
- Pass if you choose.
The norms ensure confidentiality and prevent negative situations, such as sharing other students' personal information outside of the small-group setting.
Students then review their progress report and report card and rate their study habits. After analyzing their data to self-monitor and document their progress, they identify areas where they wish to see improvement every time they meet, and rate themselves on a 0-10 scale, from "Goal not met" to "Goal met." Students are welcome to share their personal goals or decide to pass, as established in the norms.
3. One-on-One Counseling
Individual counseling specifically addresses social-emotional issues that might hinder the student from performing at his or her maximum academic potential. The biggest challenge when providing individual counseling in a school setting is offering the services without interrupting the classroom instruction. This is why using study hall periods is so important.
Students meet with a counselor for 30 minutes weekly over 8 to 10 weeks. In the initial session, they complete a goal-setting form to address anxiety, self-managing skills, or other specific concerns that might be affecting the student's school performance.
Resource: SOS!: A Practical Guide for Learning Solution-Focused Groups With Kids K-12 by Patricia K. Tullison and Katherine O. Synatschk is a great book that has forms on a CD in Spanish and English to help with goal setting.
Individual counseling is similar to small groups in terms of goal setting and monitoring progress. The biggest difference is the level of attention and intensity that the counselor requires to work one-on-one to address student concerns.
Counselor Support Is Vital
When working with a diverse group of students expected to successfully navigate not only high school, but also college, it becomes a priority to equip them with the academic and social-emotional skills to do so. As teachers provide scaffolded instruction to meet students' needs, counselors must also provide scaffolded services to ensure that all students receive the support to become college-ready.