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The post-pandemic era has educators dramatically pivoting to focus on the social and emotional growth of students.
For two years, many students experienced academic performance loss coupled with fear and isolation from school closings, all contributing to a widespread mental health crisis among children.
Like many districts, the Pleasantville School District realized that it had a critical role to play in helping students cope with not only regaining their academic footing but learning about themselves and their role in the community now and in the future.
Last year, a full-time districtwide K-12 Social and Emotional (SEL) counselor position was created and Joyce Connell was hired to be the coordinator of counseling and guidance. The growing program has included home visits for students experiencing school avoidance issues, connecting youngsters to needed resources, parental support and a stronger connection to the school community.
Connell spoke about educating the whole child at the Nov. 1 Pleasantville Board of Education meeting and updated the board on the district’s Comprehensive Counseling Program. She was joined by the district’s teams of counselors for all grades. Currently there are four counselors at Pleasantville High School, three in the middle school and one at Bedford Road School.
The current approach to helping students uses three general levels of support, or domains, each tailored for specific grade levels, according to Connell.
“The three domains we use in the program are college and career, academic and social and emotional,” she said.
Programs range from classroom instruction to parent and community presentations and advisory forums to small, group and individual interventions based on students’ immediate needs, which can include home visits. The program also collaborates with private therapists, psychologists and outside agencies.
“We use colorful tools to identify emotional literacy and coping strategies,” said Mary Ann Flatley about counseling youngsters at Bedford Road School. “We meet in the little theater and talk about general themes of emotions, celebrating differences and identity and how words and actions have an impact on others.”
Flatley, a licensed mental health counselor who has worked in Pleasantville schools for about four years, said she addresses specific needs, especially for those who are new to the district.
“We talk about where they come from and what’s different about their former setting,” Flatley said.
Middle school counselor Pam Roth explained how staff speaks to students about social, emotional and academic issues.
“The sessions with students are fun and help foster a sense of community among the students and counselors and can form meaningful connections with all students,” Roth said.
Specific to pre-teen students in fifth and sixth grades, Roth said healthy relationships, identity, self-image and celebration of differences are addressed.
“We also address the transition to middle school and the growing pains they go through as well as academic and career interests, hobbies and self-advocacy skills,” Roth said.
Solving emotional problems and learning coping skills is the focus for seventh- and eighth-graders. The program also prepares them for the transition to high school and involves discussing academic careers, time management, academic planning and using resources.
Pleasantville High School Counselor Rebeca Castellano detailed the needs of specific grades.
“We focus mostly on the transition into high school and getting to know the building for ninth-graders,” Castellano said. “Using mentors from the 11th and 12th grade creates a sense of community.”
Connecting with 10th-graders are counselors and teachers discussing college and career development and focusing on plans after high school for 11th-graders.
“That can include work, a gap year, the military, tech programs or college,” said Castellano, adding that parents attend the in-person and Zoom meetings. High school students needing more time and attention have scheduled times working directly with counselors and consulting with outside providers.
At the end of the presentation, Connell projected future targets for the program, including developing elementary school counseling, growing a more robust transition from elementary school to middle school and adapting to a more diverse population.
Pleasantville Superintendent of Schools Dr. Tina DeSa said the program was creating a positive climate and culture among students.
“There is so much conversation about how we are supporting kids in this new phase of a post-COVID era,” DeSa said. “I think of our district in the realm of being whole-child focused, looking at students holistically, supporting them academically and addressing their emotions and growing pains by telling them that it’s okay and we are going to get through it.”
Abby is a local journalist who has reported on breaking news for more than 20 years. She currently covers community issues in The Examiner as a full-time reporter and has written for the paper since its inception in 2007. Read more from Abby’s editor-author bio here. Read Abbys’s archived work here: https://www.theexaminernews.com/author/ab-lub2019/