Elkhart County scores with $3.2 million in counseling grants

Last fall all seven districts in Elkhart County were delighted to learn they had been awarded school counseling grants from the Lilly Endowment! The competition was stiff—over 250 grant proposals were received by the Endowment with only 57 grants awarded. Elkhart County counted for 7 of those 57 winners!

Lilly Endowment originally budgeted $22 million for school counseling planning and implementation grants. Almost 300 districts and charter schools requested planning grants, using $9 of the $22 million. Then the Endowment was stunned to receive so many implementation grant proposals. The needs across the state for improving school counseling services were so compelling that the Endowment added another $10 million toward implementation grants, plus opened a second competitive round this spring with an additional $10 million.

Elkhart County schools united as the Comprehensive Counseling Collaborative of Elkhart County (CCCEC), one of five collaborative grant recipients. Five different groups of schools were successful in applying as collaboratives, with Elkhart County’s being the largest in size—seven districts—and dollars awarded–$3.2 million. All seven districts worked together during the planning grant phase and were able to develop a unified approach to improve school counseling in each district as well as across the county.

CCCEC by the Numbers

Three transformative goals will be addressed in the school counseling project:

  • Implement a comprehensive school counseling model aligned with the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) model, which includes K-12 social- emotional and college and career readiness frameworks as well as tiered academic and mental health interventions that meet the needs of every student
  • Strengthen ongoing countywide collaboration among school counselors, focused on sharing best practices, identifying the most effective strategies for supporting student outcomes and supporting the replication and scale-up of effective strategies across districts
  • Create and sustain networks of community agencies and business partners that work with counselors to support social-emotional development and provide hands-on, authentic opportunities to develop college and career readiness skills

At the end of four years of grant funding, Elkhart County schools will see an increased impact of school counseling programs on long-term student success and create systems that will positively impact children and youth for years to come.

What are we doing with the grant funding?

The seven school corporations in Elkhart County agreed to work on aspects of school counseling as a collaborative. The seven districts recognize that the challenges facing the young people and families they serve are systemic issues, which can be addressed most effectively by acting in partnership and on a scale commensurate with the seriousness and complexity of the problems.

The counseling project focuses on three main areas of need:

  1. Social-emotional learning
  2. Career readiness
  3. Counselor optimization

Social-emotional learning (SEL): Schools across the county, Indiana and the nation are experiencing significant increases in students’ and families’ mental health issues and challenges. Thus, SEL needs to be better addressed in our schools. In this project, SEL will be impacted by developing

  1. K-12 lessons in SEL topics such as bullying, self-care, “grit,” etc.;
  2. Tiered interventions and services for students; and
  3. Networks of community agencies to work with counselors to support SEL.

College and career readiness (CCR) is another local and statewide need for students. Our schools need to provide information and experiences from elementary through high school to prepare students for postsecondary education and/or the world of work. CCR in Elkhart County schools will include

  1. Developing and expanding career exploration and awareness activities through work-based learning opportunities,
  2. Increasing college awareness and readiness through college visits and targeted K-12 exploratory activities and
  3. Using the Naviance platform to plan students’ college/career pathways.

Counseling optimization is the third focus of this project and entails helping counselors use their skills and training more effectively and simultaneously using their time more efficiently. Counselors often operate in a “triage” mode as they deal with student challenges and crises and then try to juggle their other duties. Often non-counseling duties such as test coordination also siphon away counselors’ valuable time. To help improve counselor optimization, this project will focus on

  1. Learning to collect and use data more effectively to better target interventions for students’ needs;
  2. Developing a comprehensive K-12 school counseling curriculum that includes a developmentally appropriate sequence of lessons focusing on academic, CCR and SEL; and
  3. Creating a school counseling mission and vision, job descriptions and program handbook for each district.

To help direct the work of the project, Center of Excellence in Leadership of Learning (CELL) and Horizon Education Alliance (HEA) have been retained to provide technical assistance. Project leadership includes representatives from CELL, HEA and all seven districts for a Guiding Team (GT). District administrators and counselors from all of the districts are members of the GT.  Together the GT will monitor the project, communicate accomplishments and milestones achieved and plan the further implementation of the CCC. Social/ Emotional: Carol Derucki, Jimtown Intermediate; Billie Jo Pawlak, Jimtown Junior High; Jim DeVreese, Concord Junior High; Julie Fell, Concord South Side; Christa Shippy, Concord High School; Jerica Burns, Central High School; Veronica McFerson, Pierre Moran Middle; Erin Shrock, Elementary/Elkhart; Kelsey Todt, Fairfield Jr-Sr High School; Elizabeth Yoder, Benton Elementary; Michelle Yoder, Fairfield Jr-Sr High School; Amy King, Social Worker; Jesselle Schrock, Chamberlain Elementary; Angela Schwartz, Social Worker; Kori Cripe, Heritage Intermediate; Doug Slabach, Northridge Middle/High; Nicole Wiggins, Woodview Elementary; Abigail Zahner, NorthWood Middle SchoolIndividual School Districts

Elkhart Community Schools: What are we doing with the grant funding?

Elkhart Community Schools will receive $1,277,000 over four years for the Lilly School  Counseling Initiative. This amount is based on $100 per child, and Elkhart serves 12,177 students. Elkhart will dedicate its school counseling grant funding to

  • Purchase Naviance software and technical support for college/career readiness planning;
  • Purchase social-emotional curriculum and programming;
  • Send counselors to the Hatching Results training;
  • Create an after-school tutoring program at the two high schools;
  • Fund counselor attendance at professional conferences/study tours;
  • Provide student supports for college visits, business and industry tours, and parent nights; and
  • Purchase supplies and equipment for college/career readiness.

These activities will occur throughout the four years of the project.

Why are counselors out of the building so often and where do they go?

With all of the attention on school counseling generated by the Lilly Endowment grant, all school counselors in the county are involved in several ways on this project. All counselors are attending the Hatching Results training, and the majority of counselors are members of one of four Work Teams (WT).

During the planning grant phase, several counselors from the seven districts attended a Hatching Results Academy. This Academy was a transformational moment for those attending. Counselors realized from the Academy and from other site visits that their current use of data to inform their decision-making was very limited, and that they lacked a consistent and effective process for using data. Counselors felt the Hatching Results training needed to be at the core of their collaborative work. The Hatching Results training also covers the examination and selection of specific curricula, strategies and programs as well as the development of K-12 counseling curriculum and program handbooks.

For the first three years of the grant project, the Hatching Results will provide training for a total of six days annually. The Hatching Results team will come to Elkhart County at least three times per year to offer training in two-day chunks. Counselors have homework after each session —readings, lesson plan writing and data collection. While this adds to their already substantial workload, our counselors also see the value in learning new processes through this training that will streamline and better target their work.

During the planning grant phase, Work Teams focused on 1)  Social-Emotional Learning, 2)  College and Career Readiness and 3) Counselor Optimization. A fourth WT will target implementation of the Naviance software across the county.

Each WT meets several times per year for half- or full-day sessions. Representatives from elementary, middle and high schools from all seven districts are members of each WT. CELL and HEA staff co-facilitate the WT meetings along with three or four elected WT chairs. In turn, counselor leaders from each WT attend Guiding Team meetings to update that group on their WT accomplishments and progress.