Kids of all ages struggle, and some more so than others. This is why the school counselor caseload management and student support services in the Southeast Cornerstone Public School Division are being refreshed, moving toward a strength-based approach for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

"This involves counselors and students working together and often with other very important adults in their lives, such as their families, parents and people in their families, teachers, or external service providers, and they identify the challenges that the students want to work on, and then they set goals together," explained Student Services Coordinator Cheryl Anderson. "From there, they'll develop strategies that might meet those goals. And they do this by building on the students existing strengths and natural supports already in place within their families and within their lives."

She said solution-based counseling is a natural fit within education as it is designed to enhance resilience which helps the students achieve success both in school and in life in general. 

"Most of our counselors, they already operate within that strength-based and solution-focus, but what we've noticed over the last several years is the number of students needing and wanting the support has increased our counselor caseloads immensely," noted Anderson.

"Sometimes those students simply want to talk about their problems without focusing on the goals, and that sometimes doesn't make a difference, so the research into the child and adolescent mental health and wellness tells us that breaking their problems or their issues, or what they're dealing with, down into manageable goals, helps the students to develop the confidence in themselves and their ability to deal with these situations."

While the number of sessions has been changed to eight per school year per student, the counselors will focus a lot on group delivery, "meaning they will work with classroom teachers to develop learning opportunities that align with the Saskatchewan curriculum as well."

"They'll work on a lot of social skills and how to manage their feelings and behaviors," she said. "So there's a lot of collaboration between the counselors and the teachers, even more so than before, because that did happen before, and then they do a lot of reinforcement and classroom learning."

She said this in-class strategy helps the younger grades to develop skills and resiliency for coping with problems, as the delivery is best in the learning environment.

"They might be receiving counseling support through groups, classroom presentations, or even school-wide events and activities that may happen, or they may access the solution-focused individual sessions," she shared. "This kind of counseling requires short-term goal-setting, with the counselor generally something that's achievable in eight sessions or less."

Anderson said once the goal is identified, the counselor and student develop strategies to achieve that goal. Then, once the goal has been met, the student is typically released from the caseload. 

"But if the goal isn't met during the eight sessions, then it's there's a determination as to what continued support should look like, and that will be established," she noted. "It might mean the student needs additional time to work and practice those skills, or it might be a referral to a more specialized service, or they might decide that they need to change the goals." 

She said those decisions are discussed with families to clarify what might be more appropriate support. 

"They'll work together with the families to make sure that we're trying to provide the best support possible for all of our students."

"Sometimes those are quick check-ins with the student, and it doesn't need to be ongoing talk and rehash every week," she clarified. "Sometimes those are the strategies, and working with families with those strategies because working together on those is also key, so involving the families whenever possible, and when it fits into the situation is definitely an important part of of the support process"

She said all of their counselors have many different resources that they share when appropriate with the students and families that they're working on to work on and the strategies to help achieve the goals set.

"When we talk about counseling, there's a lot of talking, but it's the social, and emotional skills. If we relate those to math or reading, students practice their math and their reading skills all the time to get better, and sometimes when the social or emotional skills maybe need that support, we need to practice those. That's why it's important that we're working on those goals and strategies and we're putting that into into place now."

Anderson said while this may seem like they have changed their practices,  it's just a small tweak to focus on those goals and the strategies and making sure that they're using their resources to the best of their ability.

"The role of the counselor set out in the Education Act is to support students in their educational goals, and that's why we hope this refresh will help align that with our division's mission, vision, and values, through the collaboration and the focus on the holistic learning needs of our students to make sure that we're we're putting those supports into place." 

She added that more more of an individualized and specialized counseling service will be provided in cases such as a traumatic event. 

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