PiE-Funded Counselors Are Crucial to Navigating Middle School in Palo Alto

The Slice – Fall 2014: In Our High Schools | In Our Middle Schools | In Our Elementary Schools

Navigating middle school can be a challenge, to say the least. To get through this occasionally tumultuous time of change, students need an all-encompassing support system that addresses their academic, social, personal, and emotional well-being. Enter the PAUSD middle school guidance counselors, all supported by donations to PiE. These counselors strive to make middle school less daunting and more of a caring and supportive place for Palo Alto students.

PiE Funds Make the Difference in Building Long-Term Relationships with Students

JLS CounselorsAccording to the counselors at JLS, Jordan, and Terman, PiE funding is critical to the strength of their programs. “Without PiE, we couldn’t have the program as we have it,” says Terman 8th grade counselor Jovi Johnston. Donations from PiE allow each middle school to have an “extra” or third full-time counselor, which in turn lets the counseling team split up students by grade and follow them from sixth grade through middle school promotion. With this long-term connection, sometimes called “looping,” counselors can offer engaged social and emotional support for all three years of middle school.

Linda Howard, 7th grade counselor at JLS, explains how PiE funding makes a difference for the school’s counseling team and students. “The real direct involvement [of PiE] is that our counselor to student ratio is pretty good. I was here for many years when there were just two counselors and students never really got their fair share. So PiE really helps.”

There is a strong mutual benefit in developing familiarity with the students and families over a longer period of time, according to Jeff Gielow, 6th grade counselor at Jordan. “You get to know their strengths, their weaknesses, and the continued areas for growth during the evolution here,” he explains.

Counselors Ease the Transition To and Through Middle School

Jordan Counseling SessionIn fact, that relationship is created even before 6th grade, when counselors visit every PAUSD elementary school to meet 5th grade students and give a preview of middle school. The counselors also sit down with all 5th grade teachers to discuss students’ social and academic needs and to gather specific information to support the children as they move into middle school at Terman, Jordan, and JLS.

And once students are enrolled in middle school, the counselors continue to monitor their progress through close collaboration with teachers. Counselors attend weekly grade level teacher meetings to get information about the students who could be struggling and establish plans for how to provide extra help.
“For each major transition, [the counselors] can carry that information to the next teacher, so they immediately have a working knowledge of the student,” says Gielow. “We have relationships with the students and with their families, which is extremely important.”

Middle School Counselors Create ‘Emotional Reserves’ for Students

Terman CounselorsThis advanced work is part of the way middle school counselors establish a rapport with students before things get difficult. Says Terman 6th grade counselor Nancy Smith, “We create a safe space for the students to just come and hang out during lunch and breaks, so that when they have a problem, we already have a relationship.”

As Gielow explains, the counselors at Jordan, “are sort of ‘money in the emotional bank account.’ We are making deposits when things are good and cheery, so when [the students] need to take something out, they have some reserve there.”

“Counseling plays a pivotal role in the health and well being of our students,” explains Jordan Principal Greg Barnes. “From one on one academic goal setting, to helping our young adults navigate the social-emotional world of middle school, the role of the counselor is paramount to student success. Thanks to generous donations to PiE, we can provide one counselor per grade level across middle school, which helps to ensure all students have access to support, guidance and advice whenever they need it.”

Terman Principal Pier Angeli La Place also emphasizes the importance of counseling for her students. “In middle school in particular, we are guiding adolescents and are aware that who our students are becoming and the development of their character is as important as what they are learning. With PiE’s generous support, counselors are able to work closely with students and families for all three years. Thank you, PiE, for partnering with us and sharing our commitment to our students’ social-emotional well being.”