DeSoto ISD Counselors Virtually Ensure Students Wellness

DeSoto student support services
DeSoto ISD Counselors. Photo courtesy Tiffanie Blackmon-Jone

DeSoto ISD Nurtures Students Mental, Social, Emotional Health

DESOTO– In the Desoto Independent School District, ensuring the mental, social, and emotional health of students is equally as important as providing a continuation of learning during the CoVid-19 public health crisis to create a sense of routine and normalcy. This perspective prompted the district to create a system of virtual touchpoints for its students in every grade level through the district’s Student Support Services department.

While some of these touchpoints are integrated directly into the district’s new Anytime, Anywhere Learning instructional components, others are more directly offered to students from Student Support Services counselors and coordinators and focus on increasing connectedness while students are away from the campuses.

One of the newer additions to this effort are grade-level-segmented counselors’ virtual office hours for all DeSoto High School students designed to virtually connect students with their assigned counselors to resolve questions, request assistance and access to resources or to simply converse.

Executive Director of Student Support Services, Etna Tiburcio said that, for many students, this is a time of uncertainty and so many questions some of which revolve around grade-level advancement, postsecondary planning, and graduation.

“By checking in on how students are feeling, we are able to connect them with the appropriate individual for guidance and support. For example, if a student identifies that he or she has been experiencing lower levels of energy, then we know that student might need to be connected to the counselor who is most positioned to meet that need. On the other hand, if the student indicates that he or she has been experiencing anxiety, driven mainly by uncertainty around postsecondary options, then a member of the postsecondary team can answer those questions. All in all, we want to check in on students first and see that they are doing well amidst this pandemic, provide some reassurance and let them know they are not alone.”

DeSoto ISD Seniors Experiencing Uncertainty

During this public health crisis, schools closed, scheduled SAT exams were cancelled and colleges and universities began urging their students to return home which raised some uncertainty for current high school seniors regarding their postsecondary options.

This perspective fueled the decision to partner the DeSoto High School Counselors office hours with discussions about College, Career and Military Readiness (CCMR). The department surveyed students prior to the launch of the virtual meetings to assess their completion of post-secondary plans providing the opportunity to evaluate readiness and customize support.

Coordinator of To & Through Iesha Jackson, who also oversees the DeSoto High School GO Center, said, “It’s important to continue focusing on CCMR to ensure students remain on track to have a post-secondary plan when they leave DeSoto ISD. The tracking system we have created will allow us to pick up where we left off for next school year by checking-in with students to see what they have and have not completed on the CCMR Grade Level checklist provided to them. For the seniors, it is more focused on providing updates on the financial aid verification process, housing applications, orientation fees and understanding their award letters.”

In addition to the high school virtual office hours, elementary and middle school counselors have also revamped their service offerings to stay connected to students and offer support through this unique time.

Director of Social Emotional Wellness & Guidance Counseling Stephanie Aldridge explained, “Students still have ongoing needs such as social emotional and academic. During this time, supporting students and families with mental health and mindfulness concerns is paramount. Counselors are remaining accessible to fulfill all aspects of their roles: guidance, responsive services, individual planning, and system support.

The guidance counseling component is being more strongly implemented at the elementary level. The campus counselors are providing group guidance lessons to multiple grade levels during their scheduled whole class instructional meetings. They address pertinent topics and offer awareness lessons, like cyberbullying, to support student behavior.

DeSoto ISD Student Support Services Department

The Student Support Services department has also implemented a system to help counselors remain responsive to students and staff. Students can connect with counselors individually via email, phone, as well as schedule times for individual support needs. Also, during ongoing student wellness checks with their teachers, campus and district staff have a system in place to refer students that prompt concern to the appropriate counselor.

Counselors are also still able to maintain their ability to support the individual planning at the secondary level. Currently, middle school students are the focus and are receiving individual phone calls from counselors and other support team members to ensure safety and wellness prior to discussing their schedule for the upcoming school year. Per Aldridge, the secondary counselors will continue to cycle through the entire student body to complete this area of individual focus on the mental and academic well-being of students.

Students receiving specialized services are not left out of the wellness matrix. Counselors are also reaching out to parents and guardians of students who are receiving the protections of a 504 plan. To ensure that these students continue to have an advocate for the student’s academic, behavior, and social emotional needs and that the appropriate accommodations are in place to enable the students to achieve during this transitional time.

“There is a lot of information that is coming out which can be overwhelming. Having a dedicated team and points of contact to help students navigate the information and answer questions helps reduce the range of emotions that students might be experiencing,” said Tiburcio.

An Intentional Approach

Chief of Student Support Services Natalia Fernandez shared that this intentional approach to ensure the wellness of DeSoto ISD students and their families is not a just focal point of the Students Services Support Department is in alignment with the entire district’s empathetic response to the Covid-19 crisis.

“When we realized that our students would most likely not be returning to school for an extended period of time, we also knew that we needed to prioritize both academics and emotional wellbeing. Our vision throughout this process has been to find a way to maintain connection. We knew it was important to ensure that students not only had opportunities to connect with their teachers and peers, but that they were provided with opportunities to engage in a one-on-one manner with a caring adult.”

To access the resources of the district’s Student Support Services, please note that a link is available under the Student Support Services tab within the district’s Anytime, Anywhere Learning website located at www.DeSotoISD.Org/AnytimeAnywhereLearning.