By Daniel Langhorne
Tesoro High School was recently added to a list of 11 Capistrano Unified School District campuses nationally recognized for their commitment to fostering students’ social-emotional support and growth by thoughtfully-engaged counselors.
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) awards schools with the Recognized ASCA Model Program following an in-depth application process that evaluates school districts’ ability to deliver comprehensive, data-informed school counseling programs.
This goal of supporting students’ social-emotional needs has taken on new urgency during the pandemic as students across the nation report they’re coping with more stress and uncertainty at school and home.
The recognition of CUSD counselors’ hard work from elementary through high school is energizing, said Refugio “Cuco” Gracian, CUSD’s executive director of cultural proficiency, equity, access, and social-emotional learning. A district team applied for RAMP recognition in 2018.
“It just validates my passion. It keeps the fire alive and motivates me to find new ways to support students and not only be successful in academics but in their futures,” Gracian said.
A major element of obtaining RAMP status is harnessing staff-tracked data on students’ attendance, academic performance, or disciplinary issues that may indicate a student is at risk for a mental health crisis. By correlating disciplinary data and a potential need for counseling services, Gracian and his colleagues expect they’ll be able to intervene earlier.
“I think it speaks volumes to the type of support our district wants to provide our students,” Gracian said.
Among the strategies employed by counselors are guided groups focused on mindfulness and conflict mediation skills. Counselors also conduct one-on-one sessions with students helping to develop their resiliency when facing adversity.
“All of us — our students and staff — have encountered a scenario over the last three and half years that we’ve only read about in books, but nobody is giving up on each other,” Gracian said. “COVID-19 had us pause and think about what’s really important. It’s given us a sense of unity and connectedness.”
By rolling out a RAMP-recognized system of support, district leaders expect to reinforce a positive school climate and support learning recovery and enrichment in core areas impacted by the pandemic. They’ll measure its effectiveness over time through the California Healthy Kids Survey and attendance rates.
The CUSD schools presently recognized with RAMP status include Aliso Viejo Middle School, Ambuehl Elementary School, Capistrano Valley High School, Castille Elementary School, Esencia K-8 School, Hidden Hills Elementary School, Las Flores Middle School, Marco Forster Middle School, Tesoro High School, Shorecliffs Middle School, and Vista del Mar Elementary School.
The RAMP designation lasts for five years and schools must reapply to ASCA at the end of this term. About 1,200 schools have earned the RAMP designation nationwide.
ASCA’s recognition of these and other initiatives by Capistrano Unified counselors recognized the support that counselors have seen from CUSD’s Board of Trustees and administrators in a challenging era, said Omero Corral, a counselor on special assignment.
As a counselor who specializes in foster and homeless youth services, Corral is optimistic that the RAMP-recognized support system will allow him to see and act on trends for a particular student or students.
“It just makes you very intentional on how your counseling department, in partnership with the school, supports students’ counseling needs. That is so amazing in the time of the pandemic because this intention is renewed every single year,” Corral said.
Gracian says he couldn’t be more proud of the district’s team effort that has allowed almost a dozen CUSD schools to stand out on a national stage.
“I think it’s important to recognize the work our counselors have done is second to none. It speaks to the love, dedication, and professionalism of our counselors,” Gracian said.
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