Written By Bree Foster
Washington state does not provide funding for our half-time school counselor at Alki Elementary. Counselors are mandated by the state for middle school and high schools, but not elementary schools, which is why they go unfunded. Some elementary schools get them, but not all, and not Alki.
Our school community values this counselor support so deeply that we have rallied to raise the money ourselves rather than lose it. Here’s what our counselor does at Alki, why it’s important, and how you can help protect this resource for all students at Alki and access services for your child.
WHO IS OUR SCHOOL COUNSELOR?
You may not know our school counselor Jen Greenstein (yet), but your child does. In 2 ½ school days a week, she makes herself known to the students as a helper and an extra person they can go to. She introduces herself to students, looks out for them on the playground and greets them by name in the halls. She observes inside the classroom, trains groups as peer mentors, helps our kids manage conflict and complicated feelings and social situations, and gives students and our community the tools to navigate an ever-complicated world. Ms. Greenstein has been a steady presence at Alki since 2014. Her office is inside the library, and she’s here Mondays, Thursdays and every other Wednesday.
WHY WE NEED IT
Counseling services impact every student at Alki Elementary, whether directly or indirectly. Social-emotional learning is a vital part of learning, particularly at the elementary level. Our counselor supports students schoolwide teaching about behavior, which helps the entire school run smoothly. Last month, Ms. Greenstein taught “I statements” to the whole school at assembly, as a way to communicate respectfully and ask for what you need – “I feel … [sad] When … [I hear mean words] Because … [they hurt my feelings]. I Want … [to play with people who use kind words].” This early conflict resolution prevents problems before they start, and helps the entire community (grown-ups, too!) live the Alki way.
Working with school stakeholders on systems that encourage positive behavior, and support our goals of safety and belonging for all, is the first of three tiers of support our counselor provides at school. She also helps students in the classroom and in small groups gain tools to work through conflict, manage emotions, respect boundaries, communicate effectively and act as their best selves. Most counselor support at Alki happens on these first two tiers and is a collaborative effort to identify needs and solutions.
Tier 3 is crisis support, with personalized plans for individual students. On-site counselor support is vital to support students and families in crisis, help students who are experiencing homelessness to stay at Alki, and ensure access to resources addressing housing instability, food insecurity and hunger, domestic and family violence and other urgent issues. Ms. Greenstein can connect families with resources and collaborate with district personnel to give every child the foundation to succeed in school.
Wherever a student is on this spectrum, our counselor is there for them. Ms. Greenstein says, “I see my job a lot in terms of safety. This is how I talk to kids: ‘My job is to help keep you safe. I am working together with all the adults at the school and your families to make sure you are safe at school and having the best experience possible at Alki. You don’t have to worry; we’re working behind the scenes together.” This level of security for all our children deserves our support.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Because our counselor at Alki is not funded by the state or district, Alki Elementary PTA has been raising the money the last few years – it’s that important to our community. Help keep this important resource available for our school: Make a direct donation anytime at alkipta.com/direct-give.
Attend a School Board meeting to voice your support of mandated school counselors for elementary schools (find more info at seattleschools.org/district/school_board/public_testimony).
Contact your elected officials (find yours at app.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder) to advocate for central funding of elementary school counselors.
HOW YOU CAN ACCESS HELP
Contact your child’s teacher as a first step.
Email counselor Jen Greenstein at Jgreenstein@seattleschools.org.
Learn the RULER tools and use them at home: alkies.seattleschools.org/academics/ruler_overview.