Annie’s intro: When we think of a school counselor, most of us likely don’t imagine a face in a square box on a screen. Yet we also know that young people need support from adults who care about them, are trained in difficult situations, and ready to help. But what does that look like, especially for young people who have trouble asking for help? When something is not feeling right, they can’t just stop by for a chat anymore.
Mariel Santos-Dugan, School Counselor at Amigos K-8, writes about some of the approaches she’s tried in adapting how she gives and offers support. Mariel also works at Amigos on getting young people into out-of-school-time programs, and has previously worked in Boston Public Schools as a high school counselor.
Mariel Santos-Dugan: These last few weeks of distant learning have been challenging as I have struggled to come up with the best ways to reach out to my students. I found guidance and support through two Facebook Groups created to support school counselors to connect and share resources; Caught In The Middle School Counselors and Elementary School Counselor Exchange.
Throughout this pandemic I have learned that students need us more than ever before. For some, academics are not a priority, and for many, the physical distancing is taking a toll on their social and emotional health. In an effort to continue to build rapport and relationships with my students, I have come up with several ways to stay connected to them and be there as a resource.
I began by creating a Google Classroom and invited all of my middle school students. My google classroom includes SEL resources and other information to help them academically and socially. In addition to these resources, I post a question for them to all answer. For instance, I recently wrote about what I felt grateful for during these difficult times and asked them to share “What are you grateful for today?” I received a lot of insightful responses - which allowed me to continue having meaningful conversations through email. I post to Google Classroom once or twice a week, as to not overwhelm them with emails.
In an effort to personalize my “space,” I recently came across a tutorial on how to create a Bitmoji banner on google classroom. I fell in love with the tutorial itself and so my banner looks a lot a lot like the video’s version. I did switch it up a bit, as you can see our cat Albey, made an appearance in the final version. I think it is a fun way for students to see more of our personality, instead of a generic banner. To watch the tutorial check out this link.
Through google classroom I also post a bi-weekly check-in google form and ask students to fill it out. Some of the responses I receive from students help me to identify red flags. When this happens I check in with the student, ask follow-up questions and make sure they are ok. I usually receive a good amount of responses. When I don’t hear from a student, I also use this opportunity to email them directly. Here is a sample of my most recent Counseling Check-in form I sent students on Monday morning.
My school created a remote learning website for our Amigos community and I took this opportunity to create my own Amigos Counseling Corner. It can be found under the Social/Emotional Support tab on the website. This google site is a work in progress and I’ll be constantly updating it to provide resources for parents and students.
During April break I had my mind set on a project, and was missing the students, so I decided to write a personalized postcard to each of them! I am lucky to only have 121 students on my caseload and was able to get them all written over the course of a few days. Here’s a picture of the two messages I used on the front. The purpose of this activity was to bring a smile to their faces and deliver a friendly message of hope and support during this challenging time.
Lastly, I hope to start lunch groups for the different grades. The goal of these Lunch Bunch groups is for students to come together, get some social interaction and just enjoy each other’s company. I plan to use the time to do activities with the students such as playing different games, doing check-in questions or letting students decide what would be beneficial to them during this time. The whole purpose is to simply provide a safe space where they can come together, eat lunch and engage in fun and interactive activities.
Moving forward I hope all adults working with youth make a conscious effort to engage with and build upon established relationships which are critical for all students. This is especially important for those students struggling with mental health. Connecting with students virtually, which is today’s reality, requires us to think outside the box and put on our creative caps. I will personally continue to work to seek out different ways to connect with my Amigos family and although I’m not sure what I’ll try next, I have been contemplating joining the Tik Tok world. Wish me luck!
I’m happy to be able to share my ideas with you all and hope this was helpful. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org