SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Through the South Plainfield School District's Guidance Department, efforts are being made to ensure the social and emotional needs of students are being met during the current healthcare crisis.

In each building, guidance counselors are working with students one-on-one and in groups well as as holding various safe and socially distant programs to provide them with much-needed interaction with their peers. 

"Our district turned to virtual learning for four months last spring and started this school year virtually as well. Many of our students have been disconnected from their peers and many do not have opportunities for social interaction" said Sam Fierra, director of guidance for the South Plainfield School District. "Our goal is to provide every student not only the opportunity to meet with their counselor but to also provide a fun activity where students can have some type of social interaction with one another." 

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Throughout the district, in-person and virtual individual or small group counseling is available to all students in elementary through high school and Social Emotional Programming (SEL), in the form of after school activities, is also taking place in elementary through middle school. 

At South Plainfield High School, counselors are holding one-on-one and group sessions as well as meeting with students every afternoon after school via Zoom to help with college applications, scheduling issues, academic intervention, and social emotional issues. At the elementary schools, after school SEL activities are being held on a class-by-class basis to maintain group limitations and, at Grant School and South Plainfield Middle School, SEL events for up to 12 students are offered two afternoons a week; pre-registration is required.

"We have to be mindful of the group size and social distancing," Fierra said, noting that, for all events, masks are required and all participants, including staff, must remain at least six-feet apart. Additionally, events are taking place outdoors with the gymnasiums as a backup to allow for social distancing in the event of inclement weather. 

The SEL programs, according to Fierra, are designed to provide group counseling centered around a fun activity. "Through organized play, students can talk about how they feel and, from there, the counselors can determine if a student needs some additional support," he said, adding, "Learning is one thing, but being around people your own age and interacting with them is just as much a part of healthy social development as academics. It's not for everybody but, for some students, they may absolutely need a program like this one."

According to Fierra, for those who are still not comfortable having their child return to hybrid instruction or partake in an SEL activity, building guidance counselors are available through virtual one-on-one and/or group sessions. Additionally, he said, classroom teachers throughout the district are working closely with counselors to identify any student who may be struggling, whether academically or emotionally. 

"South Plainfield has, since March, provided live instruction and interaction and our teachers are able to see who is there regularly, who is logging off or struggling," said Fierra, adding that adjusting to this new 'normal' is hard on students 'across the board.'  "Our students yearn to be back together and our counselors are doing a phenomenal job guiding them through this difficult time." 

Information on counseling and upcoming SEL programs, including registration links, is emailed to parents each week; at the elementary level, details about upcoming class activities may also come from the classroom teacher. Parents seeking more information can contact their respective school's guidance counselor; a staff directory by building is available online at www.spboe.org

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