By Lisa Capobianco
Managing anger, learning to listen, being assertive and showing compassion are just four of many guidance lessons the Southington school district has been able to implement with the help of a federal grant.
During the beginning of the school year, Southington received an Elementary Guidance Grant from the U.S. Department of Education worth $1.2 million to expand the K-5 Counseling Program. It is a three-year grant that included funding for 4.6 elementary school guidance positions and programs. Funding is renewed based on yearly performance.
“This is one grant opportunity in my career that I am most proud of,” said Interim Superintendent of Schools Karen Smith.
During a recent Board of Education meeting, Program Director Rita Stearns said the grant program aims to accomplish socially and emotionally competent students, quicker staff recognition and support students in need, stronger home, school and community relationships, and increased student achievement.
“We will find out in August if we’re ready for year two,” said Stearns, who presented an update on the grant’s progress to the school board.
During the meeting, Stearns shared the successes of the grant program for year one. Rita serves on the Grant Advisory Team with over a dozen members. Stearns said the Advisory Team continues to grow, as it has partnered with the Family Resource Center and Southington Youth Services to co-sponsor parent workshops. The team has also worked with Southington’s 3 to 3 Initiative and The Early Childhood Collaborative of Southington (ECCS), as well as joined forces with STEPS to create a charitable event offering leadership opportunities for fifth grade students.
“Our grant advisory team continues to grow,” said Stearns, who is also a fifth grade teacher in Southington.
Through the grant, the “Second Step” curriculum has been implemented in all K-3 classrooms. Stearns said this curriculum is a top-rated, research-based, developmental guidance curriculum. Earlier this year, all students in grades K through 3 received weekly or bi-weekly developmentally appropriate guidance lessons that covered the topics, such as making friends, being assertive, learning to listen, solving problems, managing anger, identifying feelings and showing compassion. These lessons involved guidance counselors interacting with the students in their classrooms with the teacher present. Stearns said next year’s lessons will involve teachers and counselors co-teaching together, and by the third year of the grant, teachers will implement the “Second Step” curriculum.
“Every single class received a guidance lesson…next year, all K through five classes will be doing a weekly developmental guidance lesson,” said Stearns. “We were blown away this year about how receptive the teachers were and how the kids really loved it,” said Stearns.
Stearns said parents have also benefited from the grant. This year, parents participated in 13 different workshops, including “Managing Challenging Behaviors at Home” and “Stress and Anxiety in Children.” The grant program also included “The Incredible Years,” which are evidence-bases programs for parents, teachers and children with the goal of preventing and treating young children’s behavior problems and promote their social, emotional and academic competence.
In August, all teachers will have an opportunity to take part in a workshop that addresses behavior management.
During the meeting, Paula Quinn, an external evaluator of Quinn Evaluation Consulting who serves on the Grant Advisory Team, shared an overview of the results observed so far. Quinn said the U.S. Department of Education is interested in seeing the ratio of students to guidance counselors, which dropped from last year.
According to the Advisory Team’s presentation, the ratio dropped from 748 K through five students to a counselor in June 2013 to 356 K through five students to a counselor in April 2014. Besides a drop in student to counselor ratios, nearly 2,000 students in grades K to three completed a “Second Step Assessment,” which determined whether they learned the attitudes and skills necessary for respectful behavior.
Quinn said of the 1,782 students who completed the assessment, 92 percent had a score of at least 75 percent, and the average score was 90 percent, which was a goal of the Advisory Team.
“We exceeded that goal for the first year,” said Quinn during the presentation. “The K through three students did learn respectful behavior.”
Quinn said the Advisory Team continues to explore other results, including changes in student achievement and changes in teacher-parent relationships as well as other changes in student classroom behavior.
“We’ll be gathering things on those results for each year of the grant,” said Quinn.