Students get a ‘boost’ from group

Adjusting to a new school isn’t always easy. That’s why two counselors at Altoona Area High School came up with a group to give students the boost they might need to make friends and find a connection.

High school guidance counselor Susan Burk said this is the second year for the Boost student assistance group.

She and fellow high school guidance counselor Andrea Larson came up with the idea to offer a group for new students to help them get oriented at the large school, she said. They encourage the students to attend activities together and join clubs.

“It helps them to feel more at home here at school and more connected,” Burk said. “If they are connected, they are more successful.”

Students can come from diverse backgrounds, and might lack that connection because of their home life or from moving around, she said. The Boost group gives them a jumping-off point to join clubs and make friends.

This year, the program took students on a field trip with a grant from the Altoona Foundation. They toured the Altoona Mirror building, had lunch and then visited the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum in November.

In Burk’s 21 years with the school district, the group has been her favorite project.

The students feel free to talk openly about personal concerns with the counselors and each other, she said.

Maureen Calandra, guidance department chair, said like other districts, they offer different ways of helping students acclimate academically, socially and emotionally.

The adolescent years are turbulent, with much development and growth during them, she said. The teen years can be stressful with making the grades or the team, college and relationships.

Groups are developed based on the needs of students, Calandra said.

They also offer a mentoring program.

Teachers are chosen as mentors to meet with students on a weekly basis to check in on how they are doing academically and with attendance, Calandra said. They offer support and guidance.

“The goal is to make sure the students know we care about them and their progress. Every student needs a little support sometimes. People should not think [the transitional programs are for] problem children. The mentoring program lays the groundwork for students to know who to turn to if they are having issues navigating their new school or adjusting socially in a new setting,” she said.

The school district has offered transitional programming for at least 15 years, Calandra said.

“It’s evolved over the years and changed for the better. We’ve always recognized the need to deliver support and guidance,” she said of transitional programming. “We try to meet the academic, emotional and social needs of the student.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.