School district mental health team shows up for students

“When their needs are met, they can have a better day at school”

[  By Kendra Walker  ]

During the January 23 Gunnison Watershed School District board meeting, the district’s mental health team shared a presentation outlining their responsibilities and goals as school counselors. 

The counseling team serves in the areas of academic advising, social/emotional learning (SEL), career development and post high school planning. The counselors are required to hold a minimum of a master’s degree in school counseling, and they serve all levels of the district, kindergarten through 12th grade. The team helps with everything from individual and group counseling, to teaching SEL curriculum, to managing student leadership clubs and the Titan Traits schoolwide character education program, to providing resources to staff and parents. 

“We work with everyone,” said Stevie Kremer, a counselor at Crested Butte Elementary. “We support each other and collaborate with team members, parents, families, outside community resources. We provide support for students any and every way that we can.”

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends there be one counselor to every 250 students, however, Gunnison Watershed has historically had high ratios of students to school counselors. From 2011 to 2018, there was only one counselor per school site in the district. At Crested Butte Elementary School, there was one counselor to 350 students, and at Crested Butte Secondary School one counselor to 400 students. As a result, the team explained, the mental health staff was doing more crisis interventions and less preventative or age-appropriate skill development.

In 2018, the district secured a grant through the Colorado Department of Education’s School Counselor Corps Grant Program, which offers a four-year grant designed to increase the availability of effective counseling, help increase graduation rates and increase the percentage of students who are appropriately prepared for postsecondary education. The grant allowed the district to add an additional counselor to Gunnison Middle School, Gunnison High School and Crested Butte Secondary School and bring the average counselor to student ratio to one counselor to 200/250 students. It also allowed the district to provide counseling through the Pathways online school.

Upon the conclusion of the grant in 2021, the district was able to keep some funding in place for counseling positions through Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSR) funds. That funding is slated to end in June 2024. According to district superintendent Leslie Nichols, five counselors will run out of funding in 2024. 

Currently, there are 1.75 counselors to 330 students at Crested Butte Elementary. Each year, the team teaches an average of 550 SEL lessons, and last year had 956 student visits for counseling. 

At Crested Butte Secondary, there is one counselor for 176 students at the middle school and one counselor for 222 students at the high school level. 

The mental health team shared that they often go above and beyond their direct and indirect student services to ensure the kids’ needs are met both in and outside the classroom. This might mean showing up to a student’s choir performance or brushing a girl’s hair because her parents were out of town and couldn’t help her get ready for school. One counselor even shaved their eyebrow to match their student’s, who had done so by accident and was embarrassed to go to class.

“We show up for kids in every capacity in every moment. We just want the best for the kids,” said one of the counselors. “When they say I need you, we’re there. We show up with our hearts every day.”

Sierra Cucinelli, a 6th grade teacher, voiced her support for the mental health team. “I could not do my job without this team, and I really don’t know how you do it all. I’m so honored to work with you. You help students feel safe and seen.”

Teacher and parent Liz Mick also expressed her gratitude for the counselors. “I am so thankful for the social/emotional learning that teachers, coaches and counselors offer to my children.”

“Thank you for all the many hats you wear on a daily basis,” board member Anne Brookhart told the team. 

“It seems like social/emotional health is being mispercepted as something that is exclusive from core education,” said board member Dave Taylor. “And from a messaging standpoint I see that the overlap is significant. As I hear you talk and see what you do, everything is social/emotional health. It’s the bread and butter. As we marry social emotional health with educational effectiveness, I support what you do and I think there will be less confusion.”

This week, February 6-10, is National School Counseling Week, so show some love and support for the great counselors in the Gunnison Watershed School District.

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