NAUGATUCK — When a third-grader at Western Elementary School crumpled up a math worksheet and refused to keep working, the teacher called the school’s new guidance counselor, Holly DaSilva.
Instead of taking the student out of class, DaSilva asked what was wrong.
“He just fell apart and said, ‘I don’t understand what’s going on,’” DaSilva said.
DaSilva sat with the student and encouraged him until he completed another worksheet by himself. She then had a discussion with the child and told him it was OK to ask the teacher for help.
Money from the state’s Alliance District initiative has paid for three guidance counselors in the borough’s five elementary schools. DaSilva and another counselor work full-time, dividing their time between two schools each, while a third counselor works part-time at one school.
The $118,000 needed to hire the counselors came from an allotment of about $635,000 that the state gave the borough as an Alliance District, or one of the 30 lowest-performing public school systems in the state.
The money was given contingent on a specific district improvement plan, which includes a guidance counselor in every elementary school.
Principals have seen an increased number of office referrals for social and emotional issues, and problems outside of school have made many children easily distracted and disruptive, according to the borough school system’s Alliance District application.
The new guidance counselors were hired this fall. They have also taken much of the responsibility for dealing with individual students’ needs away from the principals, Assistant Superintendent Brigitte Crispino said.
“It really frees up the principals to provide additional instructional leadership in the school’s classrooms,” Crispino said.
DaSilva also works at Salem Elementary School, where Principal Jennifer Kruge said she now has more time to work on new teacher evaluation documents and curriculum changes to meet common core standards.
“I also like to work with the children, too, but is nice to have someone who will help out with that,” Kruge said. “It gives another perspective.”
The schools also have social workers, but they are mainly assigned to special education students, administrators said.
As a counselor, DaSilva’s duties include giving lessons in class about emotions, bullying and conflict resolution. DaSilva said she also works with data teams and helps figure out students’ learning styles to determine the best strategies for teaching them.
Almost a week after the Dec. 14 shootings in Newtown, DaSilva said she had not had to work with children upset by the incident.
A few came to see Kruge because they were upset, and Kruge reassured them the shootings were a rare event and they were safe at Salem School.
She told them to hold on to a good memory when they felt sad, and said she would check on them in a few days.
“They just needed to talk a little bit about it,” Kruge said.