By KAYLA J. MARSH
ABERDEEN — From academic support to one-on-one or group sessions, school guidance counselors provide a variety of skills and services for students to take advantage of to help them become productive citizens in the community.
As established by N.J.A.C. 6A:8-3.2, school districts are required to implement a board of education approved, comprehensive guidance and academic counseling program.
And during the Jan. 28 meeting of the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District Board of Education, school officials provided an update as to how local guidance counselors are preparing students for the world while continuing to address their emotional and social needs.
“The counselors were an integral part of this presentation [as] they worked diligently to create and prepare this comprehensive guidance plan,” said Michele Ruscavage, principal of Matawan Regional High School.
“It was definitely a collaborative effort and we listened to lots of view and lots of idea points and I think [we were] able to synthesize everything together for the K-12 Comprehensive Guidance and Academic Counseling Program Plan.”
According to Sean Cronin, assistant principal of the high school, the process to put together the K-12 Comprehensive Guidance and Academic Counseling Program Plan started last year.
“We met four times at the high school after hours and … discussed what we can do and what we can introduce moving forward to take the guidance department to the next level,” he said.
Cronin said while he feels the department does its job reaching every student, more action can be taken.
“District-wide, we are going to conduct a needs assessment so we can see specifically year to year what initiatives, programs, groups can be implemented so that we can meet the needs of all students and make sure that their emotional and social well-being is being met to lay the foundation so they can succeed,” he said.
For the elementary level students, Counselor Barbara Danback said the counseling program promotes development of skills to increase student success as well as personal and social growth.
“School counselors provide students with support to persevere, while successfully working independently and cooperatively,” she said. “Counseling sessions and guidelines are designed to assist students, introduce them to the skills necessary to be productive citizens in our schools and community … and all students are provided access to the school-counseling program.”
Danback said collaboration among teachers, administrators, parents and students is vital to the counseling process. “Partnerships are vital and are extremely important to the success of our school-counseling program,” she said. “Partnerships go beyond the student-counselor relationship, including relationships with parents, teachers, administration … in efforts to help the students succeed.”
For middle school students, counselor Kathy Feen said, the guidance program is about making the transition as smooth as possible.
“The first phase of the Husky Ambassador program is really to begin to utilize students to serve as an ambassador to transfer students,” she said. “During the sixth grade year we begin to emphasize to our students the importance of recognizing the increase in the academic rigor, the importance of raising their game regarding their study habits, decision-making skills, time management strategies and their initial exploration for potential career interests and utilizing resources such as Naviance, a college and career readiness program.”
At the seventh grade level, Feen said the Husky Ambassador program involves a trip to the high school where the youngsters shadow current students for a day and are further exposed to the different academies offered. The hope is to expand the program even further next year for all students to attend.
“Throughout all the grades we’re dealing with the emotional needs of our students as well … and at the eighth grade level we’re preparing our students for high school and educational opportunities and options that they have,” she said. “Basically working with our students to prepare them for the life ahead in the higher education.”
For high school students, counselor Andrea Grasso said there are five counselors: one dedicated to the Freshman Academy, one who meets with all the sophomores, a counselor dedicated to all the other academies and two counselors devoted to juniors and seniors.
“We hope to increase the opportunities for all our students by adding additional academies in the upcoming years,” she said. “We want students to think about career and post-secondary education plans, and a counselor can help a great deal with that.”
Cronin said in the future the department will also collaborate with outside agencies, holding career and college fairs and holding annual counselor articulation meetings between schools to discuss students’ needs, both academic and personal, and ease transition between counselors.
“At the elementary level we are going to partner with the local police departments to develop programs introducing digital citizenship, and we are also looking to expand our Husky Ambassador program to ease with transitions,” he said.
“At the high school level, we will introduce a senior practicum experience, where they will be able to work on resume writing skills, job interview skills and hopefully be able to get out into the field and explore different fields they might be interested in“Throughout the district we will also facilitate more counseling groups based on students’ needs whether anxiety, academic struggles, bereavement, social struggles. … We are very excited for what we put together.”