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School District receives grant to boost counseling efforts

Date: 10/15/2012

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District's (HWRSD) Safe Schools/Healthy Students initiative recently received one of 60 grants distributed nationwide to boost its counseling efforts in the district's elementary schools.

Gina Kahn, director of Safe Schools/Healthy Students, told Reminder Publications that the U.S. Department of Education Elementary Counseling Grant would allow the district to fund three full-time psychologist positions for each of the district's elementary schools.

"We have continuously acknowledged that kids need to be socially and emotionally stable in order to succeed. It is not only appropriate, but essential that our schools be in tune with that as they are with other educational aspects," she said. "This grant is going to help us with those components by allowing us to employ these psychologists."

Kahn went on to explain that the addition of the psychologists would allow for more personal interaction with students, as well as teachers and administrators.

"Right now our school psych staff is shared between the schools and because of that, most of their focus is on assessments, specifically in special education," she said. "By having these full-time counselors, in addition to the routine assessment responsibility, they will be able to be more involved in offering day-to-day support.

"Hands-on staffing is always a challenge and this grant gives us more resources to implement our strategies through the Safe Schools/Healthy Students initiative," she added.

The grant will also allow the district to implement at tiered intervention model for counseling support through the purchase of the AIMSWeb Comprehensive system and related training "to support acquisition of system tools and related training to implement universal screening/benchmarks and progress monitoring of student outcomes," according to an overview of the grant provided by Kahn.

Additional related technology and behavioral health intervention training for nurses will also be funded through the grant.

Monies received through the grant will also fund increased community outreach efforts, including "information-sharing agreements that create more comprehensive transition plans for students returning from hospitalizations" and "expanded, community-wide suicide and self-injury prevention resources."

The district had originally sent its grant application to the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Secondary Education's Safe and Healthy Students subdivision, which planned to offer 60 grants, in May.

"The main target of our grant application was our elementary schools and improving our counseling services," Kahn said. "We knew it was going to be extremely competitive and it was certainly a long shot. Especially when local and federal funds are scarce as they are now, the more applicants turn up for these grants."


The Safe Schools/Healthy Students program also recently released a survey for parents in an effort to better understand their interactions with their children.

"We're looking for parents' input on the challenges they face and the ways they communicate their expectations," Kahn said.

She explained that the survey would address a wide range of issues and challenges that face students and their families.

"We're using the survey to ask parents how they convey their expectations of respectful interactions and bullying, as well as issues such as substance abuse, alcohol and drugs," Kahn said.

She added that she believes that in addition to helping the district gain a better understanding on the subject, it would reinforce for parents the idea that positive messages conveyed to their children do work.

"Most parents in the district communicate high expectations, but there still seems to be a perception that kids are engaging in negative behavior," she said. "I think the data will show that proper communication of those high expectations can prevent such behavior."