Schools receive planning grant

Funds used for counselors’ development, educational resources

Two local school corporations are the recipients of planning grants to identify ways to improve counseling services to help all students better prepare for academic, career and personal success.

Seymour Community School Corp. and Brownstown Central Community School Corp. were among 284 public and charter schools in Indiana to be awarded the grants from Lilly Endowment Inc.

The amounts of the grants were based on enrollment. Seymour received $30,000, and Brownstown was awarded $28,500.

The grants are a part of the first phase of Lilly’s five-year Comprehensive Counseling Initiative for Indiana K-12 students. The endowment awarded a total of $9.14 million in planning grants, which ranged from $8,302 to $50,000.

As part of the grant, schools will spend the next three months collecting and analyzing data, assessing their current counseling programs, identifying best practices, visiting promising programs and engaging community partners, among other activities.

Funds from the planning grant will be used for professional development for counselors, to pay travel expenses for counselors to observe successful counseling programs at other schools, new student resources and to increase parent involvement opportunities, said Catherine DuBois, assistant principal at Seymour High School.

Challenges that have been identified statewide include school counselors being burdened with large caseloads, the significant number of students who struggle with mental health issues, the low percentage of students obtaining a bachelor’s degree and the increasing number of students living in poverty.

“School counseling is being redefined,” DuBois said. “Previously, counselors were viewed as academic advisers within the school assisting students to meet their graduation requirements and provide guidance regarding college and careers.”

Now, counselors need to focus on students’ social and emotional well-being as much as academics and college and career readiness.

Dubois said with Seymour’s diverse student population, the schools have to meet the needs of a variety of students coming from unique situations and settings.

Also, with the growing demands of accountability and assessment, counselors are spending more time handling administrative duties than meeting with kids.

“Through this planning grant, we are looking to identify reallocation of duties as well as developing community partnerships to increase support and mentoring opportunities for our students,” she said.

After the three-month planning and study phase is over, schools may then apply for implementation grants to fund the strategies they develop to move them closer to a comprehensive counseling model that addresses the academic, college, career and social and emotional needs of students.

Seymour could be eligible for up to $470,000 and Brownstown could get $158,000 in implementation grants. Those amounts are based on student enrollment.

The endowment launched the initiative last fall to make counseling programs more effective.

“Addressing these challenges is critical to the future quality of life for Indiana residents,” said Sara B. Cobb, the endowment’s vice president for education.

“The endowment is committing funds to this initiative because Indiana needs to increase significantly the number of K-12 students who are emotionally healthy, can realize academic success and graduate from high school,” Cobb said.

Lilly and other companies continue to struggle to find enough qualified employees to fill available jobs, she added.

“Indiana’s students need to achieve valuable post-secondary credentials, certificates and degrees that are essential meaningful employment so they can compete and prosper in the global society in which they will live and work,” Cobb said.

Brownstown Superintendent Greg Walker said counselors play an important role in a student’s success, and the planning grant will allow them to work with outside partners, including the Indiana Youth Institute and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce Foundation, to do more.

“Through this planning grant, we will bring together representatives from business, social services and the community to determine what community resources are available to assist our counselors in providing the best opportunities and services for children,” Walker said.

Right now, Brownstown will focus on two areas — personal and social development and academic advising and achievement.

“This community-based counseling approach will help get students and families the social services they need to be successful and assist at-risk students stay in school and develop a post-secondary or career path,” Walker said.

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January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.