When Dr. Shaketha Blankenship started her job as a school counselor at Floyd Middle School, she talked to students who felt like school “was not the best place for them” and “didn’t feel like they had an adult or a group of adults who they could go to and talk.”
So, Dr. Blankenship set out to change that.
“I talked to those students, and they really wanted to be connected in our school community. So, we started a program called Dynamic Girls of Excellence, which is a mentoring program,” Dr. Blankenship explained.
The mentoring group supports sixth, seventh, and eighth-grade students, pairing each student with a female staff member mentor. The students have described the mentoring group as a “wonderful experience.”
At Kennesaw Mountain High School, Katie Barrington’s impact may be seen in the students who walk across the graduation stage. Ms. Barrington shared a story of a student who may not have been able to successfully graduate on time if it were not for her intervention. When she first met the Kennesaw Mountain student, the student was an entire grade level behind. The Cobb counselor worked with the student for a long time, encouraging her to focus on the goal and not be discouraged by struggles in class.
“I think that was a big moment for me to watch her figure that out, get herself back together, be able to catch up, and graduate on time no matter how far back she was,” Ms. Barrington revealed. “That was just a really exciting moment for me.”
Dr. Blankenship and Ms. Barrington are examples of the exceptional counselors serving students in Cobb Schools and why the district created the Cobb School Counseling Comprehensive Model Certification (CSCCM) to recognize outstanding school counseling programs.
The Cobb County School District and Office of School Counseling kicked off the start of National School Counseling Appreciation Week, surprising the first five schools to earn the CSCCM certification: Belmont Hills Elementary School, Daniell Middle School, Floyd Middle School, Griffin Middle School, and Kennesaw Mountain High School.
Cobb’s counseling certification honors schools for implementing a comprehensive model program and recognizes schools committed to data-informed school counseling programs that support all students so they can achieve success.
“This first year of CSCCM honorees have shown their commitment to their students, supporting the school and district mission, and the school counseling profession,” said Dr. Melisa Marsh, Cobb Schools Supervisor of School Counseling.
During the surprise announcements, the school counselors’ reaction made it clear how they felt when they learned they had earned the district’s newest certification. They were thrilled!
“It’s a really big deal! [The District certification] shows me as an employee, as a school counselor, that they really value what we do and want to recognize it,” Ms. Barrington said.
The certification validates all Dr. Blankenship does to support students.
“We’re happy that we’re amongst the first group to receive the Cobb Comprehensive School model certification,” Dr. Blankenship said. “It shows that we’re a data-driven school counseling program. We work with students in several capacities. It shows that our goals are aligned with the school goals, and we’re working towards a data-driven program.”
The counselors described the application process as a learning journey and a professional development opportunity they recommend others try.
“I think it’s a really cool tool that allowed us to see the strengths and weaknesses that our program had and then spend a whole like a year and a half dedicated to working on that and improving upon that so we could be the best program possible in order to help our students be successful,” Ms. Barrington explained.
Ms. Barrington was not the only counselor at Kennesaw Mountain focused on increasing the number of students who reached the graduation stage, which led to the school’s CSCCM certification. The Kennesaw Mountain counselor team aimed to support student success and improve high school graduation rates for 9th and 10th-grade students by closing the gap with students who were off track to graduate in 4 years. The counselors taught all students classroom lessons on college and career readiness and graduation requirements. Students in jeopardy of not graduating on time met with school counselors in small group settings to learn healthy coping skills for stress, and IEL students met with their counselors for individual advisement sessions. As a result, there was a 31% decrease in failed classes for the year, helping 9th and 10th-grade students get back on track for on-time graduation.
Belmont Hills earned the district’s counseling certification after the school’s counselor, Hollie Ollivierre, supported her school’s mission to improve math inventory scores for fifth graders. Mrs. Olliverre helped build her students’ math confidence skills by teaching a Growth Mindset lesson to all students and running math confidence small groups. As a result, Belmont Hills 5th grade students achieved a 32% growth in math inventory scores for the school year.
School Counselors Lauren McAfee and Cayce Pope helped Daniell Middle School earn the district certification by supporting student achievement and helping to improve schoolwide attendance, especially for Daniell’s ESOL students. By teaching classroom lessons on the connection between school success and attendance and teaching students how to manage stress better, the school counselors saw a 76% decrease in unexcused absences.
As another CSCCM recipient, Griffin Middle School counselors Cheryl McFadden, Julia Richardson, Stella Majia, and William McCaffrey utilized the “Seven Habits” curriculum to teach students valuable leadership skills to improve their connection to school. By teaching students how to prioritize, set goals, and “begin with the end in mind” executive functioning skills, students decreased failing grades by 67%.
Beyond the mentoring program at Floyd, the middle school counselors facilitated a closing-the-gap intervention to support the school’s mission to improve attendance and Reading Inventory scores. The school data showed that students missing school also negatively affected their Lexile reading scores. In addition to teaching classroom lessons on study skills, the school counselors also hosted a parent education series, “Conversations with the Counselors. This unique approach to collaborating with families resulted in an average of 113-point improvement in reading Lexile scores and a 50% reduction in students failing two or more academic courses.
“In Cobb County, the school counseling program, we’re very intentional about our work. We talked a lot about being very data-driven,” added Dr. Blankenship. “There’s a primary reason for everything that we’re doing. There is a road map, and there’s a destination that we’re trying to get to. There’s something behind all the work that we do in Cobb."