Student success during, after pandemic requires NC to invest in school support personnel
The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on the critical need for school support personnel. This past week was National School Psychologists Week, and on this edition of Education Matters, we take the time to highlight the work of school counselors, psychologists, social workers and others who are working to help keep school communities healthy and safe.
Welcome to education matters presented by the Public School Forum of North Carolina. I'm your host, Maryanne Wolf. The Cove in 19 Pandemic has shone a bright light on the critical need for schools support personnel. This past week was National School Psychologist Week. And on today's show, we take the time to highlight the amazing work of our school counselors, psychologists, social workers and more who are doing so much to help keep our school communities healthy and safe. We're so pleased to be joined today by Event Richardson, a school social worker in Nash Rocky Mount schools, and also lead kookiness, the 2019 National School Psychologist of the Year in a Wake County Elementary School psychologist. Welcome to both of you. Thank you. Good to be here. It is great to be here, Li. I'd actually love to start with you. I know this past week was National School Psychology week and I wonder if you could share a little bit more about the many skills and the important role that school psychologists bring into our schools and the impact that they have. Thank you. I would I would love to share that. I like to start out by telling people at school Psychologists are, um, complex problem solvers we address students needs through a whole child approach and through a team approach. We worked very closely with our school social workers or school counselors and our school nurses, and we addressed kids needs through data analysis, consultation, a lot of collaboration. We often evaluate kids and were often, um, involved in the intervention side, the intervention and prevention side event. I wonder if you would tell us a little bit more about the role of social workers in our school and how that's evolved with Cove in 19. Yes, so I like to think of the role of the social worker overarching role as being a broker. We're linking the school, the community with home, and underneath that we become advocates. We become facilitators. We become teachers. We become counselor. So there are many, many roles that we play as school social workers, pre cove it pre racial injustice, pandemic. The needs were great, and now the needs are even greater. We're seeing needs of hunger. Homeless instability has increased. I think that's pretty much across the state, not not just in any particular county and especially in our schools that were already under resourced are low economic communities. There is even greater greater needs that that we're seeing so greater opportunities as well for for school staff to come together, the support team to come together as well as for the community to come together. But we're seeing a tremendous increase in the needs on the academic side, social emotional side, mental health. And we know that if the if the basic needs of our students aren't met, they are not learning. They cannot learn academics and they cannot learn the social emotional skills that they need to be successful. Eso we look to find the needs try to meet the needs. Try to eliminate the barriers that get in the way of school success for our students. I wonder if both of you would share an example of an innovative or team approach that you've been able to use, especially with Cove. In 19 student support services, teams are meeting, which is which is also the specialized instructional support personnel. Depends on who which acronym you're using are coming together and, um, talking about students getting information from families to see what are the needs, Um, and really looking at where do those needs fall along? Maslow's hierarchy of needs and triaging their needs? So sometimes we have. Sometimes I'm working with my school social worker on getting kids access to community. Resource is sometimes I'm working with, um, just the school counselor to see what are the social emotional learning lessons that need to be delivered. But triaging, um, those needs and looking also just if the innovative practices that have to go on for specifically for school psychologist to deliver evaluations because we're still attending to the policies around special education evaluations. And so there's been a lot of creative problem solving that's occurred. I think the team approach in everyone looking at the same needs and then pulling Resource is identifying resource is to help meet those needs. I've seen where I want to say. Typically, it has been the social worker has been looked at the as as the person who would go out and do home visits. I'm seeing administrators doing home visits. I'm seeing counselors do home visits, dean of students. So there's mawr of a collective sharing of Okay, who's gonna go out and find the student who's going to go out and try toe connect with this parent to get documentation sign. So I see, ah, greater level of accountability being taken by the entire team to just get things done and get the resource is to the families that need them. Yes, so important. And I know another challenge that we keep hearing about his mental health and how crucial it is for everyone, including our educators. I wonder if you would both talk a little bit about out strategies to help our educators in our students. Um that, yeah, one of the things that that I see us doing is providing educators with information about how to take care of themselves how to prioritize themselves. So we're doing um, here in county public schools were doing a lot of work around building resiliency not just for our students, but also emphasizing to staff. It's important that you build your resilience, so providing them with wellness tools, providing them with spaces during after the workday where they can come together and talk about things that are hard for them on Ben again teaching them how to reset their nervous systems so that they can get into that that place they're resilient zone where they can, you know, do what they need to do, not just in the school, but also outside of the school. So I think it's it's just talking about it is creating those spaces for staff to If I need a minute, I need a minute because it's hard today. Onda having people in place that they can go to and and provide resource is for in the spring. Obviously, when we saw just everything unfolding, there was more deliberate communication about employee assistance programs. Um, more deliberate communication, Um, about why it's important for us to take care of ourselves, acknowledging that parents are very, um, stressed right now, I'm worried about their kids and and obviously teachers and educators. Um, we're worried about kids, too, and we carry that with us. No matter, no matter what our situation is, we think about these kids. I often say, you know, sometimes we wake up thinking about, you know, kids that we know are in families that are struggling. So, um, a big emphasis on self care and a deliberate, um, push Thio, ask people even in meetings. A lot of the meetings I've been and start with. Tell me how you are taking care of yourself and just people sharing, um, small ways that they're doing it. But I know that other schools, like one of my colleagues, I think she is actually doing ah, yoga our, um, one or two times a week for educators at her school like you can join. And this is a way of self practice. But also taking a walk with, you know, your school social worker outside for 10 minutes is a form of self care. So I just more, um, embracing that. It is a real thing. And it is, um, it's an absolute need now for educators. Well, thank you. And as we wind down right now, I did just quickly want to address Lee that we know there is a shortage of school psychologist and other school personnel and support personnel, and resource is too. And I wonder if you could share any recommendations you might have. Or just how do we address this need? We find ourselves in North Carolina in a dire shortage of school psychologists. We currently have, um seven, about 772 school psychologists serving 1.5 million schoolchildren. And that's the piece of data that that I live and breathe and and wake up thinking about because it is, um, it impacts, um, at so many levels. Um, the resource is that we're that we're currently that we have in place is we have we have our names as eligible professionals on the forgivable educational loan service. We are working on ways to, uh, re certify people across, re specialize in re certify people across the state, Um, and bringing about an awareness. But we've also had several, um, bills that have gone through to address the recruitment and retention of school psychologists, um, and which were which we hope to increase in the near future and ongoing Well, thank you both so much. You both shared just how important it is that we have people like you and obviously you specifically in our schools, working with our educators, our families, and especially our students every single day. And thank you so much for all you dio. And after the break, we will be joined by a high school counselor and a student services director. Education matters is brought to you each week in part by town bank serving, others enriching lives wear so happy to be joined by a Halle More Ah, high school counselor in Transylvania County. And Antonio Blow, the student services director in Greene County. Welcome to both of you. Thank you. Halle, can you talk a little bit about the role of a school counselor? And what strategies have changed from last year to this year? So our role at school counselors are greatly important in a school system. We are certainly trying to address the whole student. Um, emotional well being there, academics and their plans for the future. So on a daily basis, any given year, that is our focus. And so, um, you know, in our district, we have wonderful counselors and, um, you know, with this change with the pandemic and things that we are adjusting Thio it has been a large learning curve, but I think we've been handling it really well. Um, there's a lot of things that we have really amped up this far, as our technology resource is and our our digital communications and things that we're doing to stay in touch with students, whether they are in school virtue are in school and working remotely. So we have, you know, like I said, Really tried Thio. Maintain communication with students with parents along with our staff, and really still address those same key components. Onda course Mental health is a little bit more on the rise and of concern, but I think we're doing really well. Thank you so much, Alley. And we couldn't agree more on how important that is. And, um, Antonio, you support all students across Green County, and I wonder if you could give us an overview of what is needed, Especially now when it comes. Thio are non classroom educators and how they help students. Well, I think there's two things out of the gate that is needed. One is we need patience. And secondly, we need understanding thes air, unprecedented times, and every day we see situations or changing for students. Situations were changing for staff and and for families. And so I always remind our staff that we only know part of the story when that student come uh into the school district. So we need Thio. We need tohave understanding, but more importantly for district's like Green County, we need access to Internet services for all of our students, and and the other thing I think that we need, which certainly be, um, access to mental health services. So I think that that is vitally important, Um, in terms of where we're headed and what we're trying to do to make sure that we serve the students and families and staff, both of you reference mental health and how crucial that is for everyone, including our educators. I wonder if you both could share some strategies to help our educators and also help them. Is there helping our students? And Antonio, I'd love to start with you, Smith. I think one thing that is vitally important is that every educator, every staff member need to have a self care plan. I think that is, that is critical and the times that we're in I also think that we must set boundaries because there's a lot going on and trying to understand it all and take it all in. We must set boundaries because, you know, staff members shouldn't go home and have to feel obligated to answer emails at 10 o'clock at night. But you have to set boundaries and I think that that is critically border. We have to create a support system on that support system. We should create a support system for in school when we when we are at school. And then we need to create a support system when we're at home with families and friends and be intentional about that On Ben, we also need to have moments of what I call a reflection. We got to reflect back on every single thing that that we're doing and how do we improve it to make sure that we're doing, um, things that will help us to take care of ourselves? I think See, Cubby says, sometimes back first things first and you gotta take care of you or yourself before you could take care of someone else. And so I think that's important. But we're also doing a pilot with one of our smallest sites. We actually have engaged state mental health service provider who will be working with staff members in talking about self care and doing some relax ation techniques and things like that on then from that, if they're additional conversations need to be had that this particular provider would be able to meet with staff members of one on one because I think that's critical given these unprecedented times. Thank you so much. Those air such important reminders for all of us. Um, and so grateful for the work you're doing. Um, Halle. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about mental health and the strategies you're using both for other educators? Because I know people come to you and all kinds of capacities, but I'll so for students, Sure. So in regards the staff, I would definitely, um, repeat and reflect on what Antonio shared because those were such great points. And I would say, you know, in addition to that, for our specific school and our county, we also have mental health. Resource is and way staff can reach out when needed and makes that accessible for them because it is very important that there take care of taking care of themselves so they can take care of their students. Um, we also at our school have a care committee. So we have a group of teachers that take it upon themselves to really make that a priority to keep staff morale high and to make the most of this situation for everyone. Teachers are pressures, Ah, lot of different things that they're having to juggle more so than ever. And so trying to keep our morale and do some so positive things positive referrals for each other. Um, that's been a highlight for making the most of this time, Um, for students. We also you know, that's more of our priority to is to help keep our eyes and ears open for those concerns. When they're not here 24 7 with us during the regular school day or five days a week, that does make it a little bit more challenging. So we work so closely among all of our staff and our teachers to keep our radar out there, but also help with, um, contacting families and those that have concerns. We worked together so closely Thio maintain that that radar for them, I wonder if you both could share just a little bit advice on what strategies can families implement to support their students whether they're remote, whether they're hybrid or face to face, what can they do and how we all have you go first? Mhm, Sure. So we saw this early on, especially after last spring and kind of getting thrown into this, um, this semester we've really tried to be a little bit more proactive as far as how can we help families at home? You know, they've got so much on their plate already, and adding school and and their student at home is another layer to that. So, um, myself and my co councilor, we have created a parent guide to really try to put together a lot of resource is for parents to reflect on and to access if needed, just for helpful reminders or some tips that that's practices. Um, it maybe technology resource is that maybe just helping have those conversations at home. You know, we don't expect them to be the teacher, of course, but just to stay engaged and help remain positive so their student can remain positive well, in the same light, pretty much create a a daily schedule. I think sometimes being at home, we can allow kids to kind of do their own thing but create a daily schedule stay connected with the parents can stay connected with their child's teacher. Parents need to be able to ask questions. Ask questions off administrators, Central office folks. Um, but also ask questions of their child. The students Show me your work. You know, ask questions, create a parent network. Um, this is a challenging moment for all of us, and and and frustrating and many times, but creating that network. So one you find out, Hey, you are not the only one that is frustrated and and and don't know how to navigate some of the systems, but also would encourage parents to do positive reinforcements. You know, when a child complete something, you know, celebrating, make a big deal of it. I mean, whether it's a special breakfast, special lines or you, you know, just celebrate. Um, I think that that is critically important. And then I know in Greene County, we have piles Power school, which is a parent portal, so parents can sign up to stay connected. They can, I guess, in real time, look at their child's grades and things like that, and also in canvas, which is the the way that our kids are being, uh, educated and using that platform. But parents can be a observer or viewer, and they can stay connected there. And I think the more knowledge we have, the better we can kind of move forward. We're so grateful to both of you and how fortunate we are here to have you in our schools and working with our students every single day. So thank you so much. Long before Cove in 19, educators, administrators and school systems across our state had a deep understanding that successfully educating our students must include addressing the academic, social and emotional learning needs of our students. Addressing the needs of the whole child is not only the right thing to Dio, it is critical to ensuring that each child received reaches their academic potential. And today additional needs air emerging related to students, fears and realities stemming from the pandemic, as well as the obstacles so many face due to systemic racism and profound inequities that shape our communities and world. When I was a teacher 20 years ago, I understood that my role went beyond academics. But at that time educators didn't quite have the language, data or information we need to implement the elements of strong social and emotional learning. Today, however, we know so much more about the foundation that this place for learning and the neuroscience behind it. We know that when a student stress response system is activated, their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain needed for higher thinking and learning is offline and not in a state ready to take in new information and process it. Research shows that students who experience three or more adverse childhood experiences, also known as aces, score lower than their peers on standardized test are 2.5 times more likely to fail. A grade are 32 times more likely to be labeled, is learning disabled and are more likely to be suspended and expelled. This group of high need students, which includes significant numbers of low income and students of color, suffers disproportionately under traditional approaches to school discipline. Addressing aces through trauma informed practices can help to mitigate some of the risk for our students. Supporting educators and students support teams, toe, learn about aces and trauma. Informed instruction through resiliency and social and emotional learning work are important for supporting our students. Research by Castle, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning and other scholars published in the journal Child Development, shows a strong and substantial benefit to implementing effective social and emotional learning programs. For example, students engaged in SCL programs performed an average of 13 points higher on academic measurements than their peers who were not exposed. SCL programs off Finding that persisted years later, It is clear that the investment can have a big impact on individual students as well as on our workforce in communities. Our teachers are very involved in supporting the whole child, but they cannot do this without the support of the psychologists, counselors, social workers and nurses thes air. The people who help students and their families propelled towards success, providing physical and mental health support while working with students to understand their learning needs and differences. Thes instructional support staff make the important connection between school and home, especially within the context of remote learning. Social workers are critical to pinpointing which students struggle with food and security or in need of other outside of the classroom supports. School counselors are the ones who connect with students who are struggling in their classes, have challenging situations at home or may need additional mental health supports. While many of our schools have school support personnel In the majority of cases in North Carolina, we do not have the number of qualified psychologists, counselors, social workers or nurses that is recommended. In recent months, we have made efforts to invest more in these critical support personnel through the Federal Cove. In 19 Relief Cares Act, Governor Cooper directed $40 million to the state Board of Education and the Department of Public Instruction. So that district's can hire more school nurses, counselors, social workers and psychologists. In our public schools. This is important progress, but we know we need to do more. The June 2020 Action Plan that defendants and plaintiffs in the Leandro school funding case have agreed to calls for an additional $40 million in flexible funding for student instructional support personnel to meet the academic, physical and mental health needs of students. As we move forward, it is critical to understand that addressing the whole child, including social and emotional learning and adverse childhood experiences, is not optional or a nice tohave, but instead an important foundation for successfully educating our students as we strive to have the education system that ensures that all of our students graduate ready for college career in citizenship and on their way to post secondary pathways. We must acknowledge and act in accordance with the science and research that demonstrates the need for these integral supports for our students. Thank you for taking time with us. Tow, learn and think about education. That's all for today, and we'll see you next week.