Grant allows return of school counselors

COSTA MESA — Four elementary schools will have counselors for the first time in two years, thanks to a federal grant.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District was one of 43 districts nationwide to win a Elementary and Secondary School Counseling grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The district won $400,000 a year for the next three years — the highest amount awarded — to pay the salaries of as many as four full-time, credentialed counselors and to increase student achievement, social competency and school engagement, said Rhonda Reid, an Estancia High School counselor.

"They will be able to with this money hire some school counselors to work at each elementary (school) to provide support for the students there," said Reid, who wrote the grant application. "It's a school, so the ultimate goal is to increase academics, so any barriers, or challenges the kids are having, the counselors will be there to support."

Whittier, Wilson, Pomona and Rea elementary schools are the recipients of the grant, and the only primary campuses in Newport-Mesa Unified to receive funding for school counselors.

This isn't the first time elementary schools have had counselors.

The district won the grant previously, which paid for counselors for about eight years, said Susan Astarita, assistant superintendent of elementary education.

"We were thrilled, because as you know, when we suffered through these budget reductions in the school district, these kinds of resources just haven't been available," Astarita said. "We've lost teachers on special assignment, you know all of those extra supports we've had in place for so many years, suddenly weren't available."

The counselors, which should be in the classroom as soon as November, will provide positive behavior support, assistance with personal issues, interventions and other services, Reid said.

"When you look at a secondary school counselors, they're focused on scheduling classes and, you know, schedules and college and that kind of thing," Astarita said. "The elementary program will really be focused on teaching kids and helping them learn."

The schools, which have a high percentage of English language learners, had the four lowest API scores out of a possible 1,000 of the district's elementary schools — Rea at 685, Whittier and Wilson each at 715, and Pomona at 734.

"We determined that these were the schools — all the schools could use school counselors — but these were the schools that could benefit," Reid said.

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