Alamosa to add new counselors

A state grant allowed Alamosa schools to further restorative justice programs and student outreach. From the Alamosa Valley Courier.

Alamosa Schools are stepping up their game in responding to student needs this year, thanks to a major grant increase.

The School Counselor Corp Grant program, administered by the Colorado Department of Education, seeks to increase the availability of counseling in secondary schools.

Alamosa Public Schools will receive $245,000 from the fund this year, nearly triple last year's allotment of $85,000. The money is primarily allocated for three purposes: to hire new counselors; to purchase a new software program to help students plan for life after high school; and to increase the presence of a restorative justice program.

About a third of the grant increase will be used to hire two new counselors, one to focus on students' transition from eighth grade to high school.

"It can be a trying time for students," said Alamosa High School Principal Andy Lavier. "They're going from an environment with perhaps more direct intervention from teachers to where you have different teachers throughout the day."

The other new counselor will assist students in planning for their post-secondary life, such as providing guidance through the college application process.

The two new counselors will join two already working in the middle school and two in the high school. The counselors will also help students develop Individual Career and Academic Plans, or ICAPs.

Another third of the grant paid for the purchase of the Naviance program, a web-based software service that helps assess and track student achievement.

"Naviance fills a void," said Lavier.

Students will use the program to track their grades and test scores, put together portfolios of their strengths, and do needs assessments and surveys.

"This will help students identify what courses to take, and to see what jobs or careers would be applicable to their skills and strengths," said Alamosa Schools Assistant Superintendent Carrie Zimmerman.

A good chunk of the remainder of the grant will go to increasing the presence of the Center for Restorative Programs, an Alamosa nonprofit that seeks to incorporate the philosophy of restorative justice in civic life, in the high school and middle school.

"We've worked in the Alamosa school district for a long time," said Luke Yoder, executive director of CRP. "We help work to implement a more restorative culture in the district."

Restorative justice seeks in part to repair problems rather than punish behavior.

"When there's a behavior incident at school, rather than simply suspending the student or pushing them out of the classroom, we hope to work with the school disciplinarian and the student's teacher and family to help come up with a way for the student to acknowledge the harm caused through that behavior and take accountability for it," said Yoder. "We want to find ways that give the student a voice in how to repair that harm."

CRP has had a presence in Alamosa High School and Ortega Middle School for several years, though only minimally.

"Now we'll have someone in the district in a more intentional way more often," said Yoder.

The nonprofit has two primary goals in the district: to keep students engaged in the school community and the classroom, and to work with "habitually truant" students and their families to overcome obstacles that might keep them from attending school.

CRP would also like to use their increased presence in the district to train teachers to implement restorative justice principles on their own for small-scale classroom incidents.

"If there's a quick little blowup in the classroom, the teacher can invite students into a restorative circle to discuss what happened," said Yoder.

The grant will also help pay to arrange student visits to college campuses and for professional development days for teachers, as well as training for student-focused clubs and organizations like Link Crew.

This is Alamosa Schools' second year in the four-year grant. Zimmerman said she expects next year's allotment will drop back down to around the $85,000 level. She said the district will discuss at that time what elements of this year's increase to keep, either through other potential grants or from the district's general funds.

"We'll assess the effectiveness of our programs and see the impact they've had," said Zimmerman.

The focus, naturally, will stay on the students.

"The goals are to make kids more college and career ready," said Lavier. "We want them to have the skills they need to be successful right away in college or a job."