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Counseling system to be updated

The Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) Board of Education is currently in the process of creating a Social Emotional Learning (SEL) Curriculum with a designated committee that will create a counseling system for all students in PAUSD. The committee aims to support students socially, emotionally, mentally and physically. The Board believes that the whole support system in PAUSD schools needs to be revised in order to adequately provide for all students.

The counseling system reformation instigated by the results of multiple student surveys, such as the Strategic Plan Survey, in which many students expressed the need for a system that would provide a variety of effective support for students on multiple levels. Such multifaceted support will include helping students with academic stress as well as personal conflicts, inside and outside the classroom.

“Social and emotional learning can serve as an organizing principle for coordinating all of a school’s academic, youth development and prevention activities,” the March 8 Board report stated.

According to the 2015 Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning Guide, research has shown that SEL can provide a strong support for students in many aspects and teach beneficial skills that students will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

“Social-emotional learning provides the foundation for maintaining a healthy balance between the many physical and psychological pursuits a person will encounter over the course of their life,” Superintendent Max McGee wrote in his executive summary on the March 8 Board meeting. “Therefore, a unified approach to addressing the social-emotional learning needs of students to ensure the development of a common language, learning targets, and grade level competencies is proposed.”

SEL will create an aligned program between all PAUSD schools and will help students starting in kindergarten all the way through the end of high school. The curriculum for middle schoolers will align with the PAUSD School Counseling Logic Model that is already in place and will be consistent with the curriculum recommended for elementary schoolers. As of now, there is no counseling model set up in the elementary schools within PAUSD. The Logic Model, which is the current system for middle and high schoolers, is based on principles recommended by the American School Counselor Association. The Logic Model offers comprehensive planning and guidance services addressing student academic, diverse career and college goals, as well as personal and social development. This model is currently instated in both high schools through the advisor program and guidance counselors.

One of the SEL committee’s goals is to include a dedicated time within the daily schedule for students to access the counseling services rather than it being up to students to use their free time to visit counselors. The SEL committee will also decide on a set curriculum for each grade ensuring that students properly learn about social and emotional guidelines as well as ensuring that they all get the support that they all need.

Even though the system includes primary and secondary schools, the main focus of the SEL committee will be to come up with a new, aligned system for the high schools.

District staff who are involved in the SEL program have been working tirelessly with the Board of Education in order to come to an agreement as to the exact role of the SEL counseling program. They settled on an SEL approach rather than the previously-discussed distributed counseling.

“Staff strongly endorses the concepts and plan [of SEL] presented, as it would ideally lead to identical, or at least closely similar, models at each school,” McGee wrote in his executive summary.

An SEL counseling committee has been put together and made up of students, staff and parents. The committee will start their work later this month and will be in charge of investigating, analyzing and recommending a comprehensive, effective and innovative counseling system for the high schools. They will work to determine social emotional learning goals for every grade, connect every student with a caring adult, identify which current counseling models need revision and more.

The committee will not make their recommendation to the Board until December and there will be multiple meetings prior to the recommendation in order to ensure that parents, staff, and student voices are heard. The SEL counseling program will not go into effect until the 2017-2018 school year.

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