The Burbank school board unanimously approved hiring a guidance counselor last week to split their time between two Burbank schools under a pilot program that will be paid for with donations from parent booster clubs.

The decision stems from a suggestion made by Jennifer Meglemre, principal at Roosevelt Elementary, and Sandra De Barros, principal of Jefferson Elementary, to share one counselor under a one-year pilot program that has parents paying for the position.

The counselor will interact with students in the classroom, such as when the counselor will guide discussions on topics such as friendship and bullying. Students will also be referred to the counselor to address personal challenges such as grappling with anxiety and getting along with others, according to a district report.

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Other times the counselor will guide small group sessions and have students discuss subjects such as divorce, bereavement or taking on leadership roles.

Overall, educators hope the program will enable students to make better decisions and learn coping strategies, and they won't rely on the counselor to discipline students, but encourage them instead.

"This is really an in-between — a space that hasn't been able to be filled or that the principals are filling in a limited manner," Meglemre said, adding that even when students are invited to meet with the principal, "No matter how friendly we are, it feels punitive," she said.

Some initially questioned the equity of the program, given that it won't be available at all 11 elementary schools this year.

In the 1990s, the school district paid for guidance counselors to work in all Burbank schools, but by 2004, all of those positions were eliminated.

"I just hate to see something that is such a benefit to kids not be available to all kids," said school board member Dave Kemp, during a school board meeting last Thursday.

He hoped the program would expand to other schools and be paid for by the district if it is successful.

Districtwide, the cost to have counselors split their time between two schools each would come to nearly $300,000— a cost that the school board is open to potentially covering if educators can prove it makes a difference.

In the meantime, the booster clubs at Jefferson and Roosevelt elementary schools have unanimously supported sharing the cost of the $51,000 counselor this year.

"Our colleagues — I know some of them are a little bit jealous of us because we get to do it first, but they're very excited about the fact that we are piloting the program, and if it's successful…then it's good for everybody," De Barros said, adding that educators could eventually make the case to expand it to all schools.

She and Meglemre plan to collect data from students, such as their attendance records and number of visits to the school's health office for the remainder of the school year. They also plan to survey teachers, students and parents on the effectiveness of the counselor.