Madison Consolidated Schools Counselor Jennifer Hensler leads a discussion with community leaders during a workshop to find ways to involve the community in the child mentoring process. (Staff photo by Phyllis McLaughlin/pmclaughlin@madisoncourier.com)
Madison Consolidated Schools Counselor Jennifer Hensler leads a discussion with community leaders during a workshop to find ways to involve the community in the child mentoring process. (Staff photo by Phyllis McLaughlin/pmclaughlin@madisoncourier.com)
Taking a cue from the African saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” Madison Consolidated Schools is working to bring the community into the schools to be role models, mentors and to help guide students toward life after graduation.

During a luncheon at Ivy Tech earlier this week, nearly 60 people – representing Jefferson County business, industry, health-care and other segments of the community learned about the Counseling Counts program in Columbus.

Jack Hess and Amber Fischvogt of CivicLab in Columbus discussed the Counseling Counts model created for that community.

According to Hess, a study of Indiana school counselors showed that since 2010, the actual time counselors spend working one-on-one with students in a day has fallen from 50 percent to 36 percent, mostly because of additional duties counselors have because of policy changes, state testing and legislation.

“For us, that was a huge wake-up call,” Hess said.

The Counseling Counts model helps schools and counseling staff build relationships with members of the community to help students with college and career readiness, academic achievement, and personal and social development.

“It’s a recognition that counseling is not the responsibility of just a few people in the community. It’s a responsibility for every single one of us,” Hess said. “The ‘whole community as counselor’ was an intriguing idea for us.”

That was the first epiphany, he said. The second: “How to do it better and in a more collaborative fashion.”

The goal, he said, is not to create any more programs but to work on a “system” that brings all of a community’s resources together. “The real job was to build deep relationships,” he said. Getting there will take “a different way of thinking and a way of working together through a very defined purpose.”

“So many of you are in our schools for so many reasons, and we want to build that even further. We want that on steroids,” said Lori Slygh, senior counselor at Madison Consolidated High School. “We need your voice.”

One of the key issues in the district, she said, was helping students with the personal and social development issues.

Bullying was listed as an issue in a survey given to all four grades at the high school. While the percentage of students reporting that issue decreased from 19 percent for freshman to 4 percent for seniors, stress was pretty steady in all grades: 53 percent for seniors, 59 percent for sophomores, and 62 percent for freshmen and juniors.

Mental health issues, such as depression, are also a serious problem.

For children who suffer traumatic childhood experiences, according to CDC-Kaiser Permanente study, the risk of contracting hepatitis can increase by 240 percent; chronic lung disease, 390 percent; depression, 490 percent; and suicide, 1,220 percent.

“We know on a daily basis, we have students experiencing those, and we work to help them with coping skills to avoid those outcomes,” said Angela Vaughn, director of student services.

After the presentations, the attendees, who were seated at tables with one member of the MCS counseling team, brainstormed ways to get the community more involved in the schools.

Jane Williams, who attended with her husband Roger of Royer Corp., suggested hosting a volunteer fair at the high school, where community members can be matched to positions that teachers identify as needs, such as tutoring or teaching about finances.

One suggestion was to have community members paired with at-risk students and meet with them once a week at the school for lunch.

Dave Ungru of Koehler Welding Supplies, said he would be willing to give his employees time from work to participate in such a program. Roger Williams agreed that would be a way to ensure a source of volunteer counselors.

What we kept hearing during those conversations was the need to build relationships,” said MCHS counselor Jennifer Hensler, who was assigned to lead the discussion at Ungru’s and Williams’ table. “It was exciting to see so much energy in that room, and I really felt it. ... They were a voice and they were heard. We were listening.”

“We need a close partnership between our schools and community. It’s vital for the success of our students. We can’t do what we do – day in and day out – without” those community members who are already involved in the corporation, she said. “Our community is like our extended family. We lean on them a lot.”

The goal is for the counseling staff to take all the ideas from the meeting and work them into the state standards they are required to meet, she said. “We’re hoping to develop a long-term system that will make a difference for the students and meet their needs.”

The information also will be useful for the application the corporation is putting together for a grant from the Lilly Foundation.

The district received an initial grant from Lilly of $30,000 to do the research needed to put together a comprehensive counseling initiative. If the final grant application is selected, the district would receive $280,000 from the foundation to implement the initiative.

Even without the grant, however, MCS is focused on building on the foundation it has established. “We want to bring all the stakeholders to the table and keep doing that,” Hensler said. “We hope to continue this.”