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Student Services: Supporting The Whole Child
Student Services: Supporting The Whole Child
Posted on 10/16/2020
Photo from January 2020. Pictured are (from left) School Counselors of the Year, Amy Jamerson, Alison Rhodes, and Lois Peterson; 2020 BCS School Social Worker of the Year Shelly Roeder; North Carolina School Social Worker of the Year Molly Pittman, and BCS Student Services Director David Thompson. Photo from a recognition at the January 2020 Buncombe County Board of Education meeting. Pictured are (from left) School Counselors of the Year, Amy Jamerson, Alison Rhodes, and Lois Peterson; 2020 BCS School Social Worker of the Year Shelly Roeder; North Carolina School Social Worker of the Year Molly Pittman, and BCS Student Services Director David Thompson.

By Tim Reaves
BCS Communications Department

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to raise stress levels across the world, BCS educators are stepping up their efforts to make our schools hubs of resilience.

The BCS Student Services Department, which manages school counselors, school social workers, school nurses, and other support staff, has been recognized across the state and nation for its data-based approaches to support the whole child. Student Services provides social skills instruction, emotional support strategies, behavior management planning, mental health services, health services from school nurses, support for homeless students, and college and career readiness.

“We believe and have evidence that if students do not feel a sense of safety and security, and a sense of belonging in our schools, they are impaired in their ability to learn and progress,” said BCS Student Services Director David Thompson. “We are now very logically looking at these factors through an equity lens to ensure that all students receive culturally responsive instruction and supports based upon their individual needs.”

Joe P. Eblen Intermediate School sixth-grade counselor Tiffany Kinnaird talks to a student in her office.In preparation for BCS Return to Learn, Students Services has sponsored important training for school staff, including trauma-informed care for all school-based staff, racial and culturally responsive practices, and social emotional skill-building.

“The central question is ‘what do our students need to be able to come to school and feel good about coming to school?’” said Ms. Michelle Smith, BCS District PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) Coordinator. “We want all kids to feel like they can come to school, they belong at school, and be able to access the curriculum. All the work we do is woven together to create a safe, secure environment.”

Ms. Smith, along with other Student Services staff, works with teacher teams and curriculum coaches to improve physical and virtual classroom design, instructional content, and teaching methods. The goal is to meet student needs beyond academics.

“Every kid comes to school with a different level of stress and a different level of resiliency skills to combat that stress,” she said. “You can’t learn until you feel safe and secure. When you’re under chronic stress, the cognitive part of your brain just isn’t working. But when you feel that everything’s OK, the thinking brain turns on.”

School counselors focus heavily on building competency in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. These life skills are critical to educational, career, and interpersonal success. Student Services helps connect those skills to classroom learning in intentional ways.

“When a teacher encourages students to collaborate, to listen before speaking, to recognize when they’re feeling stressed, that is social emotional learning,” Ms. Smith said. “We all get stressed; we all get tired. But we can learn to be resilient in times of adversity. And those skills are needed more than ever right now during this pandemic.”

Buncombe County Schools is implementing a Multi-Tiered System of Supports as a framework for school improvement. Supports are layered, with a baseline for everyone and more intensive interventions set aside for those who need them most. PBIS builds proactive systems and practices that encourage healthy behavior, while the Compassionate Schools model brings trauma-informed care into the classroom for general stress reduction and help for vulnerable students. Student Services has strengthened and broadened training in these supports to include more staff members during the pandemic.

“If we’ve done one thing different for COVID, we’ve hopefully helped all staff understand what’s going on in our brains right now during the pandemic and how it connects to learning,” Ms. Smith said. “Those lessons have been useful to create a continuum of learning from the physical classroom to the remote classroom. What does it mean to be safe during A days and B days? What does it mean to be safe in the virtual world? You’ve got to talk to kids about that. You have to make sure everyone’s on the same page. We have some great teachers out there who are connecting. They’re doing really intentional work to make our students feel like they are connected and engaged, that they belong.”

This video explains the BCS Compassionate Schools Model in more detail.

Buncombe County Schools is in the process of reviewing its website to ensure compliance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Buncombe County Schools does not discriminate on the basis of sex in its education programs or activities and is required by Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and federal regulations to not discriminate in such a manner. This requirement extends to admission and employment. Inquiries about the application of Title IX and its implementing federal regulations may be referred to the Title IX Coordinator and/or the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education. The Title IX Coordinator's contact information is: Shanon Martin,, 828-255-5918, 175 Bingham Road, Asheville, NC 28806.

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