Future readiness doesn’t have to be put on hold just because school is not in session. Here’s how one district made the switch to virtual learning and built the infrastructure for a virtual school counseling program.

Future readiness doesn’t have to be put on hold just because school is not in session. Here’s how one district made the switch to virtual learning and built the infrastructure for a virtual school counseling program.

The Challenge

On Monday, March 9, 2020, Texas reported one of the first cases of coronavirus in the U.S. Dr. Stephanie Cook, managing director of guidance and counselling for Frisco Independent School District noted that the patient was in her school district. Students were on Spring Break, but she and other administrators were already acting fast to anticipate what would come next.

Within the next two days, they knew they would be closing the 73 campuses that serve 63,000 students in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

“We understood we had a lot of work ahead of us to keep our students learning,” said Cook.

On Wednesday, March 11, Cook gave herself the day to “daydream” about what virtual learning would look like in the enormous Frisco ISD. She had reviewed a resource released by ASCA providing advice on virtual school counseling and considered the impact on teachers, counselors, and students.

free remote learning guide on social emotional learning activities

“[I thought about] what virtual counseling would look like. For most counselors, [advising students] is a sacred space you share with another human being. You’re in the same room, reading body language and you can see what it means when someone says something and looks down. There are qualitative components to a conversation. How would that work [in a virtual environment]?” she wondered.

By Thursday, March 12, she’d wrapped her head around a plan. And for the next four days, she dug deep to figure out how to help everyone, “completely change their mindset and paradigm about counseling, learn technology at a moment’s notice, and build the infrastructure for a virtual school counseling program that would support 63,000 students.”

District
Frisco Independent School District
Location
Texas
Problem
An abrupt switch to remote learning had the potential to derail future readiness learning in this enormous district
Solution
Students were able to stay on track with Xello

The Solution

The strategy was to break it down, make it simple enough to understand, yet comprehensive and sophisticated in its design. She used ASCA’s outline as a foundation and started with educating counselors on how to set up a virtual office. That included learning new technology, including Google Voice (since phone systems were not accessible remotely), Zoom and Google Hangouts (for video conferencing with colleagues and students), and Google Classroom to communicate with students.

“We learned quickly that we wanted students to know how to get hold of us. Counselors set up appointment links for parents and students and communicated through email,” said Cook.

“By Monday, March 16, all parents had a link to reach counselors and they started getting appointment requests that night. [Virtual] visits with kids began Tuesday.”

The next step was making sure teachers had the resources they need to conduct virtual learning. This included providing emotional support during a troubling time.

“Counselors were great about dividing up and making personal contact with each teacher to get infrastructure in place so that we could respond to needs,” said Cook.

All parents of Frisco ISD students received an email newsletter each Sunday, sorted by grade level or content area. In it were links to the week’s lessons and a link to their counsellor. Future readiness remained part of the virtual curriculum, including guidance and psycho-education lessons for each grade level.

“We only missed one day of instruction in Frisco,” said Cook.

To ensure equity for students, the district handed more than 4,000 devices, including Chromebooks, laptops, and tablets on which virtual learning can be conducted. Six internet service providers in the district are providing 360 days of free access—which corresponded with the number of days left in the 2019/20 school year. For students who still had barriers to connectivity, Wifi was available from school parking lots.

Frisco Independent School District
63,000
K-12 students
73
Campuses in Frisco ISD
90%
Frisco ISD high school graduates who continue education at a college, university, technical school, or military

“We hadn’t used all the resources in Xello yet, so this is a good time to do that. It helped that students are already familiar with the program. We know that having college and career lessons will help students think beyond right now. We’ll be looking at how we can use Xello to reorient to what life will be like after coronavirus.”

Frisco ISD

Dr. Stephanie Cook, Managing Director, Guidance and Counselling, Frisco Independent School District

The Results

Throughout it all, Frisco ISD was in year two of using Xello in their middle and high schools. In the 6th grade, students accessed it in a Tech Apps class and lessons were aligned with its learning objectives. In Grades 7-8, counselors introduced Xello to students in guidance lessons, encouraging them to take personality and learning quizzes and exploring their interest inventory and Matchmaker. High school students use Xello to personalize their plans and create next-step goals.

In the virtual learning environment, Xello continued to be an important resource. College and career readiness was part of the guidance lessons included in students’ weekly newsletter.

“Xello was one of the two recommended guidance lessons,” said Cook.

Students could revisit their profile in Xello, explore independently, or do grade-appropriate lessons.

“For high school students in particular, it’s developmentally appropriate to stay focused on long-term goals,” said Cook.

That was Frisco ISD’s success story—now it’s time to write yours. Learn how Xello can help students at your district get college and career ready. Book My Demo

About the District
The Frisco Independent School District is one of the fastest growing school districts in the nation, with more than 60,000 students enrolled in 10 high schools, 17 middle schools, 42 elementary schools, and three special programs schools. Frisco ISD is committed to small, personal learning environments.
About the Educator
Dr. Stephanie Cook is licensed therapist and school counselor. She has over 15 years of experience working with young people and families navigating adjustments and transition. In addition to her role as the managing director of Guidance and Counseling for Frisco ISD, she serves as the director of leadership, training and development for the Lone Star State School Counseling Association. Dr Cook is also an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University and her alma mater, Dallas Baptist University. She currently serves on the board for Life Path of Collin County, SMU's Counseling Advisory Board, and the SMU/TEA Advisory Board.
Heather Hudson
ABOUT HEATHER

Heather Hudson is a Toronto-based freelance writer and journalist. She specializes in content marketing, corporate storytelling and good old-fashioned journalism. You can read some of her work in The Toronto Star and learn more about her at heatherhudson.ca.