As DPS re-images, please keep student emotional growth in mind

I was reminded this morning, as a tweet came across my newsfeed from “DPScommunityDistrict”, and I went “who?” that DPS is currently re-structuring, re-imaging and I hope, re-evaluating how Detroit’s learning communities deliver education to students in the city. It’s a tough job for education leaders trying to hold together a system that has been pulling apart at the seams for many years. I choose to see this time in Detroit’s resurgence as an opportunity to be a model for education reform – I want DPSCD to be the example people use to when they talk about successful students, prepared for higher education, career path and LIFE. I want the spot light that is hot and centered on restaurant growth in the city, to shine brightly over public education, I want New Detroit Teachers in the city to be able to say with pride, I teach in Detroit, come look at what we’re doing. The fact that this new district allows for un-certified teachers doesn’t give me a lot of hope…

One of the largest downfalls in public education (in general) is the lack of psychological services available to students AND teachers on K-12 campuses. This is most definitely a nationwide issue, and not solely a Detroit problem. Fact, school counselors and social workers are practically non-existent. Active employee data for the city does not appear to be available via the DPSCD’s website, so it’s difficult to determine where we stand locally. DPS currently has 1 job opening listed for a school social worker (0 for school counselors) details pending RE number of SW employed and number of students enrolled.  Even suburban districts like the (substantially smaller that DPSCD) Novi Community School District have 2 school social workers and 4 school counselors for their over 2,000 student high school. Chicago area teachers sighted the lack of social work support as a large part for their strike in 2012 – 370 social workers for the district, leaving 1 social worker per 1,000 students. Just this past March the ASCA (American School Counselor Association) published a nationwide average of 481 students to 1 counselor during the 2013-2014 school year.

Shocking. Let’s pull this apart – 481 students, with roughly 20 school days per month, that’d mean seeing about 24 students per day, 120 per week. For arguments sake let’s say that only about half of those “really need” that level of intensive support – so 60 kids per week, 12 kids per day. Let’s give them 30 minutes of facetime with the counselor on their given day. So to see all of those 60 kids every given week, that counselor needs to be able to devote 6 hours of his/her day, each and every day to just keeping up with this set of students. School days 8 hours – so with the remaining 2 hours, counselor needs to manage crisis situations, problem solve with teachers/staff, see “non-essential” students to offer support, paperwork…eat…PEE!?

I wonder if districts look at what school mental health professionals provide and see value in the student support? Beyond academic guidance and college/career prep school based counselors:

·       guide and support special education assessments, can help identify learning challenges and create support solutions

·       provide essential information about life factors (cultural, economic, family) and how they affect student performance and behavior

·       connect students and families to community resources for long term or more intensive services (transpiration, housing, food, financial, wellness and the list goes on)

·       strategize, positive, preventative interventions with teachers and administrators to help keep students in class and ready to learn

·       manage crisis prevention and intervention for campus issues/concerns 

·       work with students in adjusting their home life/school life balance

New Detroit Teacher, your campus NEEDS to make supporting the emotional development, and psychological needs of your students a priority. Chalkbeat reported earlier this month about a state funded program in Colorado that was able to save the state $300M, reduce counselor to student ratios and increase daily attendance. The grant program that ran from 2010 – 2015 gave $16M to 59 schools during this time in an effort to strengthen the bridge between primary Ed and higher Ed/career. Almost 3 quarters of the students effected by this initiative were minorities and from low income areas of the state.  By the 4th year of the program counselor to student ratios were down to 1 – 216, dropout rates where down (rebounding a little in the last funded year) and the estimated savings were around $300M in potential lost taxes and need for other social services.

The relationships we form (and by “we” I mean it all inclusively to mean every single adult on your campus) with students is what keeps them engaged, connected and with their butts in classroom seats. Academic skill building is imperative to their growth as individuals, it’s the foundation of a successful future in higher learning, a sustainable career and ultimately happy, healthy, adulthood. New Detroit Teacher, shouldn’t it be our mission to clear the path?