Arcadia Unified Focuses on Students’ Social and Emotional Health by Adding Full-Time Counselors to Each School Site
--AUSD Celebrates National School Counselors Week--
This National School Counselors Week (Feb. 4 - Feb. 8), Arcadia Unified School District celebrates its 23 school counselors, 11 of whom were hired or made full-time this school year in support of the district’s emphasis on bolstering social and emotional support for its students. There is now a full-time counselor at each of the district’s elementary and middle schools, ten counselors at Arcadia High School, and two transitional counselors.
“We [Arcadia Unified] are committed to developing the ‘whole child’,” expressed Arcadia Unified Board of Education President Cung Nguyen. “This has always been a priority for us because promoting relationship building with students helps establish trust and reassures students that school is a safe space, which ultimately creates connectedness to the classroom, teachers, and learning.”
Though not required by a local, state, or federal mandate, to further effectuate this board commitment, Arcadia Unified’s Board of Education approved the hiring of full-time school counselors for each of its six elementary schools. Prior to the 2018-19 school year, there were three school counselors allocated to the elementary schools who split time between each site.
Having worked as a school counselor during his career, Arcadia Unified Superintendent Dr. David Vannasdall has a special understanding of the important role school counselors play in the lives of students.
“The addition of a full-time counselor at each elementary school has opened more possibilities for us to provide additional social-emotional resources for our students,” shared Dr. Vannasdall. “We have also received resoundingly positive feedback from our elementary school principals and teachers who feel equally supported due to the peace of mind they have in knowing there is a specialist dedicated to their site to help not only with reactive approaches but proactive approaches to reinforcing positive social-emotional behaviors.”
Walk on any of Arcadia Unified’s elementary and middle school campuses, and you will see signage and banners related to Stephen Covey’s Leader in Me program, a program that instills positive leadership and life skill habits, some tenets of which include “be proactive”, “begin with the end in mind”, and “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This program and many others, such as Second Step, a social-emotional learning program that is geared towards building a sense of safety and respect starting in kindergarten, are just a couple of the important programs being implemented with consistency and effectiveness as a direct result of the district’s school counselors, explained Dr. Vannasdall.
“Our goal is to have students coming to school each day happy, healthy, and ready to learn,” said Hugo Reid Elementary School Principal Dr. Lauren Leahy. “This school year, our school counselor [Kimberly Lauxen] has quickly become a cherished presence on campus, and I am so grateful for the opportunities having a full-time counselor presents to further support the mental health and well being of our students.”
In addition to the district finding value in the intangible benefits its school counselors bring to students’ lives, Arcadia High School Counselor and Association of Pupil Services Administrators President Andrew Poon feels valued in his role. “It speaks volumes that I am on a first-name basis with our district administration and Board of Education,” said Poon. “We are also given time to collaborate with each other, and with the elementary schools each having a dedicated counselor, we are able to ensure we are vertically aligned in our efforts in supporting our students through each stage of their educational journey with us.”
For the past two years, Arcadia Unified has been ranked as the best place to teach according to Niche.com, which seems to have helped with garnering top-notch applicants for the newly added school counselor positions. “Many of our counselors are also MFT’s [Marriage and Family Therapists], which has helped build parent and family connectedness with each of our schools,” said Dr. Vannasdall. Some of these school counselor-hosted events include Parent Education Nights, with topics that range from “The Art of Communicating with your Child” to strategies to promote digital citizenship, and participation in the nonprofit Kids for Peace’s “Great Kindness Challenge,” which is a week’s worth of promoting acts of kindness at school, at home, and in the community. Likewise, Arcadia High School’s counselors host Mental Health and Wellness weeks, where words of kindness and support can be found in bright chalk colors throughout campus grounds and yoga, meditation, and mindfulness activities are promoted.
To further demonstrate the importance of school counselors, Arcadia Unified’s Board of Education recently passed Resolution No. 1377, officially adopting and declaring the week of Feb. 4 through 8 as National School Counseling Week to both recognize and honor the important contribution school counselors make to ensuring support for students beyond the books.