For Northview Middle School Counselor Jennifer Dodson, last fall began like many before. She welcomed her 450 students back to school and began scheduling one-on-one check in’s and offering her professional services—everything from conflict resolution skills, class scheduling, to coping strategies for anxiety. As Jen assessed her students’ needs and the many obstacles they face on a daily basis, she came to the conclusion that she needed more tools in her arsenal to help students deescalate and self-regulate in the face of stress. She turned to The Advancement Center’s matching grant on Donor’s Choose for help. Her project “Calm, Cool, and Collected” was fully funded and proven stress busters such as kinetic sand, putty, sensory balls, and fidget tools became readily available for students experiencing crisis.
Fast forward to March of this year. COVID-19 hits, schools shut down, and Jen, like so many educators, had to pivot from in-person services to exploring non-traditional means of engaging students. As Jen puts it, “It used to be that if I wanted to speak with a student one-on-one, I would simply walk down the hall and get them. That has gone away…What has replaced that is family outreach—meeting families exactly where they’re at and removing as many barriers as possible.” What does this look like? It looks like scheduling Zoom meetings, outdoor home visits, emails, late night or early morning text messages, and direct messages on the district’s Canvas platform. Jen says, “Sometimes that means a parent who works all day can’t message me until 9 p.m. If that’s the only time they have available, then that’s what we do.” For Jen and so many others working in education, it has meant moving outside the bounds of a traditional 9-5 day and remaining open and flexible based on students’ needs.
Counseling students with the constraints of 2020 has not been easy. Jen sees and feels the struggle to connect with and support families on a daily basis. However, when everyone is finally back in school and students can once again utilize the “Calm, Cool, and Collected” tools Jen received through her grant, there are experiences from this year that she will carry with her. When considering her relationships with families, Jen says, “I feel more connected than in the past. More parents know who I am and know how to get ahold of me. There isn’t just one way of communicating anymore. That is a celebration.” In spite of all of the challenges this year has brought, connecting with families on a deeper level is definitely something to celebrate.
“Cool, Calm, and Collected” is not the first time The Advancement Center has been able to support Jen and the passion she puts into her work. Over the years, she has received support for four different grants–including one that allowed her to present her innovative “One Minute Meetings”, a universal screener for social-emotional needs that she had developed at Northview, to the Indiana School Counselors Association. The grant also enabled Jen to participate in professional development opportunities that she was able to bring back and share with her fellow school counselors. We applaud Jen and all of our resilient educators who are going above and beyond, blending traditional and non-traditional supports, in order to keep students engaged.