Summer was sort of a footnote for the 16 counselors who work in the Bedford Public Schools.
And now that reopening is less than a week away, they are prepared to execute a three-tiered all-encompassing plan, said Alicia J. Linsey, director of counseling for pre-kindergarten through high school.
“School counselors are really on the front line of supporting students as they move through their educational journey,” Linsey said.
In the spring, she reported, counselors “were working with families and identified students who are most vulnerable. That will guide our initial outreach to families. Since kids haven’t been in school since March, counselors began preparing in June for their return.”
Beginning early in August, Linsey has been meeting with seniors virtually about their post-high school planning. “I want to equip them early and empower them to control those things they can and acknowledge the things they can’t.”
“The overall focus of effort is systemic, universal support – care coordination between school and outside of school, and communication among the school the home and outside providers,” Linsey said. “It is especially important to think about the ecological systems – the families the neighborhoods the schools – and how those systems interact to support kids.”
Linsey, now in her third year with the Bedford schools, outlined the components her three tiers — consistent with past years but also designed to address the exigencies of the ongoing pandemic. “We are viewing this as if all of us have been exposed to some degree of trauma. That’s really the lens through which we are working. Everyone is coming in with some level of concern.”
She calls the first step “innovating capacity,” aiming to “expand existing and innovated capacity due to increased volume and complexity of student service access/support needs. We are designing supports for acute stress, anxiety, depression, and ambiguous grief.” Some of the outreach will be personalized; indeed, she said, counselors are already meeting with certain students.
Counselors who work with younger students prepared a developmentally appropriate social-emotional learning survey for parents, to provide feedback on how students have been over the past few months, Linsey noted “That will really inform the services and supports we want to put in place.”
The second tier, Linsey continued, is called “strengthening our seamless service chain.” Counselors make use of linkages across the schools, particularly the transition grades that begin in different buildings. “So there is communication there, as well as with any outside providers.”
This includes community-based support, Linsey said, noting that she and Heidi Porter, director of the town’s Department of Health and Human Services, “have been working really closely together. It has been amazing what can be done when the town and school have such a close partnership.”
She pointed out that in July the town and schools began access to Interface, a clearinghouse for mental health services sponsored by William James College of Newton. In past years, she said, “counselors were identifying needs but couldn’t fill them all and were making referrals to outside providers. But there was a significant gap in service delivery. With Interface, you give the specifications and they find somebody for them. It’s a tremendous service, and it’s available to all students who attend the Bedford Public Schools.”
“Within all four schools the work we do is so important and can’t be done in isolation, so we have student support teams and child protection teams,” Linsey continued. “They work collaboratively to ensure that a comprehensive care response is provided to all students and families, and to ensure access to medical care, psychosocial support, and advocacy. The team approach is really helpful because they’re never alone with a kid in crisis.”
The third piece she calls “upstream prevention — strengthening current practice and expanding approaches to increase early prevention and pre-crisis intervention across schools.”
There are many signs and symptoms of trauma, she enumerated: eating and sleeping complaints, separation anxiety, irritability, difficulty relating to or empathizing with others, difficulty in regulating emotions, a feeling of helplessness. “I have talked to the faculty about that, as well- naming your own feelings so you can move on,” Linsey said. “We talk about socio-emotional learning around kids, but it’s also important that adults feel supported and valued.”
“We are also thinking about what we can do to educate our teachers about trauma and how mental health symptoms show up in the classroom. That will help the counselors since we have a strong referral system,” she commented. “Teachers are our eyes and ears – they’re with the kids every day.”
“We are so fortunate in Bedford for the support of our School Committee and the community,” Linsey said. “The best thing the district can do for school counselors is to lower their caseload. The average at Bedford High School is one to 166.”
She pointed out that in the past two years, an additional counselor has been added at Davis School and BHS.” Adding staff lowers the caseload and counselors can provide more personalized services.”
Linsey said one counselor works with students and families at Hanscom Air Force Base. Contact actually began last spring as eighth-graders began thinking about the transition from the Hanscom Middle School to BHS. “Our counselor last year started offering office hours on base in the evening.”
Mike Rosenberg can be reached at email@example.com, or 781-983-1763
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