June 20, 2024

Woodrow Wilson counselor provides students, families with crucial resources

Even the littlest students need support early on in their academic lives

Dallas Vander Pol, school counselor at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, makes sure the students in kindergarten through fourth grade have the support they need to succeed. In addition to providing counseling to students, Vander Pol has wealth of outside resources to help families, students and teachers.

Dallas Vander Pol has the best office in Woodrow Wilson Elementary School. Not only is it spacious and welcoming for Newton’s youngest student population, it is also the closest office to the entrance of the building. Which means every student at some point in time will no doubt have an interaction with the school counselor.

For Vander Pol, who has worked in the school district for the past four years, a close office gives her a chance to start and end her day with hugs from the kiddos; but more importantly, for the students it allows them access to a faculty member whose wealth of resources will support them when they need it most.

“As students are leaving they’ll sometimes stop by my office,” she says. “If a student comes in and has had a rough day, I’m the first office they pass. So if something’s on their mind or there is something they’re struggling with, most students feel very comfortable popping their head in and asking if I’m available.”

As part of her role as school counselor, Vander Pol works with teachers and families to support students and make sure they have the necessary supports in place to help them be successful. Sometimes that means students will need additional community resources, which Vander Pol is pivotal in facilitating.

“We have a partnership with Employee & Family Resources (EFR) and we have a student assistance program,” Vander Pol says. “So our students and their families can qualify for six, free therapy sessions per life event during the school year. And that’s just one resource our families benefit from.”

Woodrow Wilson Elementary School also partners with Kinetic Edge Physical Therapy, which operates an office in Newton. The clinic provides occupational therapy — which people often associate with recovery from an injury — to help with emotion regulation of students and developing coping skills.

Capstone Behavioral Healthcare also partners with the school district. This past year, the school board approved the implementation of a school-based therapist in the district, which would be provided by Capstone starting next school year. Vander Pol says every resource plays an important part in supporting students.

“Students need all these different supports to help them be successful,” she says. “They need their school. They need their family. But sometimes they need additional community resources or additional push-in supports here at school to help them. So you kind of have to think outside the box.”

Even the high school offers support to Woodrow Wilson Elementary students. Vander Pol says a “buddies program” lets high schoolers spend time being a mentor to the littles. The program lets an older student be a champion of a younger student, which Vander Pol says can be very beneficial.

“Students grow and learn differently,” she says, “I believe every student is capable of learning and capable of growing, but their support and the support they may need in order to be their best self may look differently. Being able to just recognize that and see what supports fit them is important.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, Vander Pol says there has been an increase in student needs; teachers noticed students needed more support academically, socially and emotionally. Vander Pol has stepped in to steer families in the right direction and help their kids meet their goals.

“I love getting to be creative and think outside the box on how we can best support you to be your best self,” she says. “There’s not one specific plan (for each student). Woodrow also feels like a family. So when I’m trying to support these students, I feel like I have several other staff members on my team.”

Kids benefit from the family atmosphere and knowing their team — their family, their school and their community — is on their side. As a fellow Cardinal herself, Vander Pol wants to see her kids succeed and help the next generations of Newton Cardinals to reach their fullest potential.

The most important of her job, she says, is to make sure the kindergarten through fourth grade students in Woodrow Wilson feel seen and heard.

“I think it’s important that students have someone to be their champion and validate their feelings. Students are trying to figure out ‘Is this a normal feeling? Is it OK that I’m feeling this way?’ So having someone to validate their feelings and let them know, ‘Yes, it is normal. I’m here. I’m on your side. I’m going to help.’ That is so good for them.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.