November 10, 2017 // Diocese

Counseling initiative prepares students for success beyond school

A 2017 Gold Star School Counseling Award from the Indiana Department of Education was presented this fall to St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School in Fort Wayne. Gold Star Schools are those in which the school counselor-led steering team has met specific criteria identified for the development of a comprehensive school counseling model.

In a news release, Dr. Jennifer McCormick, Indiana superintendent of public instruction, commended Gold Star recipient schools’ community members and counselors for their role in preparing students for success beyond high school.

Principal Lois Widner, school parent Lisa Vance, counselor Tara Walulik, teacher Karen Tippmann and school parent Sarah Steffan, from left, were tasked with the challenge of creating a plan that would incorporate the Indiana State Standards for guidance. Together the group devised a strategy that will allow for focus on the academic, social and emotional well-being of all students at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School, Fort Wayne. One component of the award-winning program they created is whole-class counseling for the student body, which will be carried out by Walulik. — Emily Diehm

In order to qualify for this honor, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton created a steering team of school staff and parents, as well as an advisory committee of students, parents, staff and community members. Together, they developed a school counseling program that addressed all the Indiana State Standards for guidance. The plan that was implemented at the start of the 2017-18 school year and offers classroom lessons, and more group counseling opportunities than in the past. Individual counseling will be available as well.

The Gold Star strategy that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton created is data-driven. “We surveyed the entire student body in order to determine what areas needed to be addressed,” said school counselor Tara Walulik. “From there, the advisory committee created priority goals and then looked for root causes and used those to determine what programming was needed.”

The steering team created lesson plans for each level from the following domains: academic, career and social/emotional development.

“The lesson plans we developed align with guidance standards. We also devised a list of activities proposed for this year and a list of future activities,” said Walulik.

Walulik worked closely with Sue Reynolds, founder and president of American Student Achievement Institute, as well as ASAI representative Debbie Howell, to develop a program to meet the state-set Gold Star requirements. According to Walulik, ASAI provided constant guidance and feedback. After each step in the process that St. Elizabeth submitted to ASAI, it would approve or make recommendations for revision.

“ASAI assisted by providing every tool that you could image,” said Walulik. “They aided us from the student/counselor surveys to drilldown reports, how to select the committee, how to run each meeting, crosswalks to make sure that each goal and standard are addressed, and training in how to identify root causes.”

ASAI notified the state in mid-July that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School had satisfied all Gold Star requirements.

The school is now implementing its Gold Star plan. Although Walulik said it’s too soon to say if there is a “climate change,” since this is the rollout year, she is “confident in saying that our program more closely aligns with the state standards.” 

Immediate and priority goals include addressing student behavior, applying the student career interest inventory and working with and providing students with ways to help reduce stress. The team utilized data collected through a student response survey to drive the priorities to areas that would address student needs.

“The three areas determined most important to focus on this year were reducing behavior resulting in students being sent to the office, career exploration in middle school, and addressing anxiety, specifically in our upper elementary,” said Walulik.

Over the summer, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton’s discipline committee met to create a plan to address some areas of student behavior. Middle school students participate in activities devoted to career exploration and create presentations for upcoming student-led conferences. Younger grades will be involved in career lessons during guidance classes. Currently, Walulik is teaching an anxiety unit to second- and third-graders, and said that eventually all grades will join in lessons on this topic.

Walulik studied the American School Counselor Association model in graduate school, then interned at a Gold Star school. The experiences were what lead her to implement a plan to raise student achievement and improve overall student success by creating a similar program for St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

“The school counseling profession has come a long way,” said Walulik. “I wanted to make sure that I was offering a comprehensive program that would benefit all students, in all of the domains. We designed the program for our specific student needs, and we will need to continue to evaluate and meet the annual requirements to maintain the Gold Star status.”

Walulik is proud of the work the committee was able to accomplish, as well as of the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School and community.

“I truly believe that we have some of the most kind and caring students and families at our school. We also have a staff that cares very deeply about the social and emotional well-being of our students,” said Walulik. “Put them together and we have a powerful combination that provides an environment not only for academic excellence, but also a safe and welcoming learning environment where students can grow into responsible contributing members of society.”

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