Appreciating Team DPS School Counselors

Feb. 10, 2017
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Every morning at Oakland Elementary School in Far Northeast Denver, school counselor Alexandra Papa checks in with her students.

“On a scale of one to ten, how are you feeling?” she asks a group of fifth graders. “Let’s go around the room.”

This check-in, though, is so much more than a quick “Hi!” or “How are you?” Papa is actually making an intentional effort to understand each student’s social and emotional well-being ahead of class.

“These kids are so resilient,” Papa boasts.

The school, located in the Montbello neighborhood of Denver, is a lifeline for many families living in poverty, providing students with occasional donations of canned food, mental health resources and other supports. Papa is part of a counseling team, including a full-time school psychologist, interns and school social workers.

“It’s great to have a hub for the community, [especially when] families come in and say, ‘Oh my gosh, we are really struggling right now,’” said Papa. “These resources and supports are things families might not otherwise have.”

This support is an integral part of Denver Public Schools Denver Plan 2020, which strives to support the Whole Child. Counselors play a key role in helping create safe learning environments where students feel supported, healthy, challenged, engaged and socially and emotionally intelligent.

Those six components of the Whole Child look a bit different at every grade level. In high school, for example, students’ stresses may shift away from making friends to engaging in dating relationships or navigating financial aid for higher education endeavors.

“We have to prepare these kids to be well-adjusted, productive adults in this world,” said Kathy Hoffman, a counselor at North High School. “It can be anything from, ‘I need a backpack’ or ‘I haven’t had lunch’ to ‘What college do I pick?’ and ‘I need a job.’ I call us the duct tape of this school, because it can be absolutely anything [where there is a need].”

In honor of National School Counseling Week 2017, DPS is thanking school counselors for all they do to support the Whole Child and ensure Every Child Succeeds.