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RIMSD #41 Counseling Dept. Receives State Recognition for their Work

For the past three years, the RIMSD #41 Counseling Department has been hard at work. All 17 school counselors got together to really look at the department's current structure and the different approaches they can take when it comes to school counseling.
"Shortly after growing our department to 17 counselors, we knew the importance of delivering a comprehensive and cohesive K-12 counseling program. Proactively incorporating social, emotional, and behavioral learning into the school environment is necessary and impactful for our students," said Amy Zero. Mrs. Zero is a school counselor at Rock Island Academy. 
Several counselors laid the groundwork by partnering with Western Illinois University's Dr. Matthew Beck. Beck is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) in the state of Illinois, an Approved Clinical Supervisor (ACS), a National Certified Counselor (NCC), and holds licensure as a K-12 teacher and professional school counselor in Illinois. He currently is an Assistant Professor at Western Illinois University. It was important for all of the district's counselors to work together as one unit.
"Collaboration is key when it comes to becoming a comprehensive K-12 counseling department. While the majority of us all work in different buildings, it is important to make sure that we are all still trying to do the same/similar things within our schools like any department in a building," said Julie Churchill, a school counselor at Rock Island High School.  "Another benefit of regular collaboration with the counseling department is to identify trends across grade levels or groups of students. Because many of us are the sole counselor in the building, it is valuable to share resources, analyze data, and create intervention and action plans that are common across multiple buildings."
RIMSD uses the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) National model as a guide for delivery and implementation.
In year one the counselors spent a lot of time creating their K-12 grades Counseling Department Mission and Vision statement. Then they collected survey data from their group to identify programmatic priorities, strengths, and areas of growth that aligned with the district's strategic plan. Those priorities then helped guide their Core Team's work. 
The Core Team was their driving task force to pull together their ideas and priorities.
"We wanted to make sure that it aligned with ASCA as well as the RIMSD mission and vision statement. Every word in the mission and vision statement was carefully thought out by the RIMSD counselors until we were all satisfied with the end result," said Mrs. Zero.
In year two the counselors worked on using attendance, behavior, and discipline data to create a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goal that was the same throughout the district. In evaluating multiple data sources, they saw a common need to focus on "student-to-student respect". They created interventions at the K-6 and 7-12 levels and collected data based on that goal in order to quantify the work they do as school counselors. They also had regular professional development opportunities as a K-12 department.
One of the ways they're addressing student behaviors is through individual WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) meetings. 
"The purpose of a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) tool is to use it with students (or honestly, anyone) so they may identify different supports in their lives, the triggers they might have and their reactions to said triggers, and steps they can take when they feel themselves getting triggered," said Mrs. Churchill.
A copy is made for the student and adult so that when the student finds themselves in a triggering situation, both parties can refer to their WRAP to see what sort of interventions or resources they need at that moment. It helps reassure students that, even though they may not feel like they have everything under control at the moment, they do have the tools they need to get back in control.
Since doing WRAP meetings, the changes have been significant, with data showing that what they're doing is working. 
This work is on top of all the other work they already do. Unlike decades ago when counselors were called "guidance" counselors and focused only on graduation and postsecondary plans, school counselors today have many roles.
They follow three main components - academic, college, and career readiness, and social/emotional support. 
There are school counselors at every grade level and they focus so much more on the whole child as opposed to just their academics and future plans.
Here are just some of the work school counselors do:
  • First people called when a student is in crisis because we are trained in de-escalation.
  • Help families find outside resources if/when needed, etc.
  • Across the district, you will find counselors in classrooms teaching and modeling prosocial skills.
  • Meeting with students in groups.
  • Hosting lunch bunches.
  • Coordinating invisible mentors.
  • Completing goal sheets or point sheets with students.
  • Collaborating with teachers/staff/administrators.
  • Calling families for solution-focused conversations.
  • Hosting organizations such as Family Resources and Youth Service Bureau.
  • Sponsoring student mentors and peer justice groups.
  • Seeing students individually for short-term or incident-based counseling sessions.
Currently, RIMSD has six counselors working towards their LCPC, which would make them Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors. Once they complete all the necessary training they will be able to do exactly what a clinical or agency counselor does. The benefit of having school counselors licensed as LCPCs is having a group of more fully trained mental health experts. 
"We envision the group of counselors playing a more direct and active role at the district level for crisis prevention and response, as well as advocating for mental health and emotional wellness across the district," said Mrs. Zero.
RIMSD#41 is the only district in the state that is doing this. Their work has not gone unnoticed either. This past fall Ms. Zero and Ms. Churchill were invited to give a presentation about the work RIMSD is doing at the Illinois School Counselor Association (ISCA) Conference. Mrs. Churchill was also recognized for being chosen as Counselor of the Year Honoree.
So what's next? So far in year three, students in grades K-8th grade completed a universal social-emotional screener; counselors are hard at work planning the next steps for outreach and intervention with the data collected. They also have a few schools in the district that are working towards getting a RAMP (Recognized ASCA Model Program) designation, which is awarded to schools that are committed to delivering school counseling programs that are aligned with the ASCA National Model. Becoming a RAMP school is one of the highest awards/acknowledgments that ASCA designates. 
"Our ultimate future goal is to deliver a comprehensive, K-12 counseling program and to minimize non-counseling duties so that we can focus on students' social-emotional well-being and the priorities we identified in our department's strategic plan," said Mrs. Churchill.
Mrs. Churchill and Mrs. Zero
Mrs. Churchill and Mrs. Zero at the Illinois School Counselor Association (ISCA) Conference.
counselors giving a presentation
Mrs. Zero and Mrs. Churchill give a presentation to RIMSD staff on all the work the Counseling Department has been doing.