By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–The second annual Southern Indiana Regional School Counseling Conference drew over 70 practitioners from across the region to IU Southeast for an exchange of ideas, experiences and best practices.
Top-shelf speakers invited discussion on topics ranging from classroom management to public policy, and from career readiness to mental health, providing a snapshot of a job working hard to encompass an ever-expanding range of responsibilities.
The conference was organized by the grant-funded Comprehensive Counseling Initiative (CCI), which has spent nearly four years building resources and providing professional development for counselors in the region.
Kelly Renteria-Evans, visiting assistant professor of school counseling and CCI team member, helped to organize the conference. She sees the event filling a need in the counseling community, confirmed by the strong attendance.
“Professional development can be a scarce commodity for school counselors,” Renteria-Evans said. “Resource barriers, such as lack of time and funding, and the pressure of competing priorities can make it very difficulty for practicing school counselors to attend.”
Keynote speaker was Damien Sweeney, program coordinator for Comprehensive School Counseling in the Office of Teaching and Learning of the Kentucky Department of Education.
Sweeney spoke on the need for school counselors to advocate strongly for their students. who are frequently underserved.
His presentation, “The Power of Courage and Connection,” detailed cutting-edge approaches by which counselors are becoming leaders in their schools by pairing compassion with data to drive change, and to implement positive practices that motivate teachers, administrators, counselors as well as students to improve educational outcomes.
Speaker Robin Thoma, professor of education and licensing advisor at Sant Mary-of-the-Woods College, provided background and expertise on structuring accommodations such as 504 plans, individualized education plans (IEP), behavior improvement plans (BIPs) and other tools. Knowledge of these interventions is increasingly necessary to address the rise in learning disabilities and mental health challenges among school-age children.
Speaking to the skills and talents that make for successful counselors in today’s changing environment, Thoma advocated for an approach that addresses “the whole child,” not just the academic or athletic part of a student’s life.
“Successful counselors are sympathetic and understanding, have a willingness to work and to find resources to address student needs,” Thoma said. “Most of all they have a desire to develop relationships with students, and to help them succeed in whatever area they need support in, be it academic, social or emotional.”
Via Zoom, Dr. Mara Tieken, associate professor of education at Bates College, hosted a discussion on barriers to college access, with a focus on rural students. Tieken’s work, including the book, Why Rural Schools Matter, explores issues of racial and educational equity in rural schools and communities.
Following a legislative updates from Michelle Clark of the Indiana Department of Education. a panel representing employers and Indiana state government discussed the importance of career readiness.
Dr. Ross Greene, noted child psychologist and author of the book, The Explosive Child, discussed his proactive and collaborative solutions (CPS) model of care, which addresses challenging behaviors among children.
The conference concluded with a networking session.
While the presentations and panels delved into specific research and practices, Renteria-Evans sees the event’s value in broad terms that fulfill the purpose of CCI’s supporting grant.
“The conference enables counselors to obtain new practice guidance and information, as well as the opportunity to network and meet,” Renteria-Evans said. “All of these are invaluable to their schools and communities.”
Homepage photo: Damien Sweeney, program coordinator for Comprehensive School Counseling in the Office of Teaching and Learning of the Kentucky Department of Education, delivers the conference keynote.