Grant helps counselors take a different approach at AEC

Alternative Education Center counselor Reynaldo Duran was recently awarded a $1,102.72 Education Foundation Grant titled Gamifying School Counseling aimed at taking a different approach to helping students. (Ruth Campbell|Odessa American)

Alternative Education Center counselor Reynaldo Duran is taking a different approach to his students with a $1,102.72 grant from the Education Foundation called Gamifying School Counseling.

Instead of using talk therapy, Duran is trying games. He looked at the components that counselors use every month to see if he could find games or anything he could use that fits the lesson or topic.

“I have board games, therapy card games, thumb balls and sand tray. Depending on the specific lessons that the district requires us to teach the kids, I looked for the specific games that would fit that. But then not only that … there are specific topics that we have to teach. Some of these are taken care of by community service providers that we invite to talk with our kids. For our regular engagement with kids, I wanted something game based. So for example, drug addiction. Instead of just talking (about) stuff like that now we have tools to facilitate the discussion. … I’ve observed that will really help the kids to share,” Duran said.

The sand tray is literally a tray with sand that therapists use to help students express themselves without words. He said they use it for students who have endured trauma, especially those who have been abused, said Duran, who is a counselor and mental health clinician.

“But when they play on the sand tray, that’s where you see some signals, messages and all that and then you can use that to anchor your questions. It’s not necessarily about investigating the situation … The sand tray will help them release the emotion,” Duran said.

You can look for a spot to question the student so they don’t feel like they’re being interrogated.

“But the target is really to get more information,” Duran said.

He said the counselors follow a protocol to assess the student’s safety and every sign of possible danger is taken seriously.

“From there, if we feel that there is a need to move up we call PermiaCare. They’re very good at responding to our calls,” Duran said.

He uses part of his day to counsel students academically, as well as for mental health. Duran sees an average of 10 students a day.

This is Duran’s second Education Foundation grant and his seventh year at the Alternative Education Center.

He said it is required that the success of the project be measured.

“In my case, I’m hoping that this will help kids to pass their classes, to improve their attendance (and) to reduce discipline and referral rates,” Duran said.

Alternative Education Center Principal Amanda Warber said she believes the benefits of utilizing the Gamifying School Counseling approach is that it encourages more students to participate in counseling without them being aware that they are in a counseling session.

“This method extends beyond traditional talk therapy, as it allows students to express their emotions in a different way. For instance, by utilizing sand trays, children can symbolically express their emotions without relying on verbal communication. This allows Mr. Duran and Ms. (Brenda) Creear (a Student Assistance Services counselor) to interpret their messages from the symbolic representations and identify the underlying issues, facilitating a path forward. This approach is especially beneficial for students who have experienced traumatic events,” Warber said in an email.