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Grant will help guidance counselors target students

July 29, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

A new federal elementary school counseling grant awarded to Washington County Public Schools will help guidance counselors target behavioral problems in students.

With the aid of a nearly $800,000 federal grant over the next three years, school officials will be able to add two full-time elementary school counselors and an elementary counseling specialist to oversee services, said Jim Russell, the school system's supervisor of pupil personnel and guidance services.

Washington County is one of two Maryland districts that received the grant.

Russell said the grant will cover salaries for the three new positions over three years, some office supplies to be used by the new counselors and any additional counseling programs that may be developed during the grant's timeline.

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Patricia Abernethy, the school system's deputy superintendent of instruction, said adding counselors to schools was not even in the budget for fiscal year 2004 because too many other requirements mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind act needed to be fulfilled.

The grant will take effect in the fall.

"This becomes a pure gift for the students," she said.

Russell said no one has been hired yet to fill the specialist position.

"They will work with all elementary school counselors to spot students with unmet needs, behavior and attendance problems," among other tasks, he said.

Abernethy said a counseling task force has been developed to advise the person who takes the specialist position.

Russell said the two schools to which new full-time counselors will be added has yet to be determined, but their placement will depend on whether a school already has a full-time counselor, its size and its needs.

He said most elementary schools have part-time counselors.

Russell said elementary school counselors work primarily to spot behavioral problems and attendance problems that may be the root of a greater emotional issue.

"Almost everything is linked to student achievement," he said.

Russell said counselors work with elementary school students, and sometimes parents, to figure out why a child is acting a certain way, such as repeatedly coming to school late, not coming at all or bullying other children.

He said elementary school counselors also have a curriculum designed to teach students such life lessons as making friends and avoiding strangers.

Russell said the goal is to ensure that students, especially in the early stages of education, see school as a challenging, yet pleasurable place to be.

"If we notice that they are missing four or five days (of school) in the fourth grade, we may prevent them from dropping out when they're 16," he said.

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