SOE Counseling Program Students Gain Hands-On Experience Leading Enrichment Program at St. Anastasia Catholic School


For seven weeks during the 2017 spring semester at St. Anastasia Catholic School in Los Angeles, the bell marking the end of the regular school day signaled that it was time for another kind of classroom learning to begin.

In small group settings segmented by grade, students at the K-8 school received academic, personal and social support from LMU School of Education graduate students while learning skills such as active listening, friendship-building, motivation and self-direction.

Sheri Atwater, professor and director of the SOE Counseling Program, developed the enrichment program, known as SUCCESS Coaching. “This was a win-win for our program and St. Anastasia,” Atwater says. “It gave our LMU students valuable hands-on leadership experience in group counseling while fulfilling our SOE mission to collaborate with community partners in providing important services that they identify.”

The SUCCESS program at St. Anastasia was the culmination of approximately a year of planning that began when Atwater approached Darin Earley, director of the LMU Family of Schools (FOS), about her interest in such a partnership. Earley found an interested party in St. Anastasia, one of 14 schools near the LMU campus that are part of the FOS — a university collaborative, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, that aims to promote student success and educational equity through a focus on school culture and climate, academic achievement, and college and career-readiness.

“Kids are being evaluated through much of the school day — where are they with their reading and writing skills, where do they need support in math,” says Tracy Mayhue, an educational therapist who serves as St. Anastasia’s social and emotional learning coordinator. “This was an opportunity for them to shine in a non-evaluative setting, and to learn how to use their non-academic strengths to support areas in which they want to grow.”

Students in Atwater’s group counseling course built the SUCCESS curriculum based on the feedback and needs assessment obtained from St. Anastasia parents and teachers as well as guidance from Mayhue, who had begun implementing a social and emotional learning program called RULER, created at Yale University, the previous year. At St. Anastasia’s request, the LMU graduate students incorporated RULER, as well as principles of Catholic teaching and faith formation, into the SUCCESS curriculum. Each of the seven SUCCESS enrichment classes was co-led by two LMU graduate students with supervision provided by Atwater and Mayhue.

“The LMU counseling students were truly inspirational,” Mayhue says. “They were excited to work with their students and did everything possible to make sure their needs were being met. Our students in these classes really bonded and got to experience how coming together as a group can make everyone stronger.”

St. Anastasia has already invited SOE to return next spring for a second year of SUCCESS. In addition, Atwater says, the program will be offered this fall at WISH Charter Elementary School, another FOS partner, under the leadership of WISH school counselor Trisha Lee, an LMU SOE Counseling Program graduate.

Atwater says SUCCESS provides current SOE Counseling Program students with an invaluable experience prior to their field internship. Among the SOE Counseling Program students to benefit from SUCCESS last spring was Jordan Sadaka. As co-leader of the first- and second-grade group, Sadaka covered topics such as impulse control, listening, expressing oneself, and being a good friend. Lesson plans employed art therapy, meditation, short stories, games and other activities to enhance learning and participation.

“This experience helped me realize how much I want to be a school counselor,” Sadaka says. “I now feel comfortable embarking on my fieldwork journey this fall with a new outlook on myself, my counseling abilities and how to approach working with young kids.”