Meet Gwen Hardin and Jennifer Girard, our New TK-5 Counselors
As part of the Lafayette School District’s goal of ensuring the social and emotional well-being of all students, the District added two full-time elementary school counselors this year. The counselors provide education, prevention, and intervention services to support students through tiered program planning and implementation of classroom lessons, small groups, individual counseling, and more. We are delighted to introduce you to Gwen Hardin, Counselor for Burton Valley and Lafayette Elementary, and Jennifer Girard (Ms. G), Counselor for Happy Valley and Springhill. LPIE is proud to provide Lafayette’s six public schools with $159,000 for Wellness this year.
Our counselors’ brief backgrounds
I’m currently the school counselor at both Lafayette Elementary and Burton Valley Elementary. I received my B.A. degree in Art History, and went to the University of LaVerne for their graduate program. I got an M.S. in Educational Counseling, concentrating on School and Family Based Counseling with a Pupil Personnel Services Credential in School Counseling. I’m also registered with the California Board of Behavioral Science as an Associate Professional Clinical Counselor.
My family and I are from Burbank in Southern California and I’ve worked at Covina-Valley Unified School District and Azusa Unified School District prior to coming to the Lafayette School District.
After working in advertising/marketing/TV production for eight years, I made the leap for a career change after years of volunteering as a Court Appointed Special Advocate. I attended St Mary's College and received my Master's in Counseling in 2011. I have worked in the school setting providing social emotional support to youth since 2010 and obtained my license as a Marriage and Family Therapist in 2015 (if folks don't know, that takes 3,000 hours under a clinical supervisor and sitting for two different board-sponsored licensing exams). I have been a classroom therapist, a clinical supervisor (supervising clinical interns), an assistant program director of a counseling-enriched program, an interim program director of a counseling-enriched program, and the director of a training department that specializes in training those in this field. It was during the pandemic, with my two small children at home, that I realized how much I missed the direct-care work and decided to take a step back from leadership. I love being back on a school campus, working with youth, and collaborating with teachers around social and emotional challenges. I am thrilled to be part of the LAFSD family.
You have implemented some new lessons this year for students to learn to talk about their feelings. Can you tell us a little bit about this program and how you have rolled it out in all the classrooms?
Gwen Hardin: Being split between two schools, I’m currently working with students in small Friendship Groups at different grade levels, based on the needs of each school. I work with students on social emotional skills and help students learn to cope and manage their emotions, as well as work on conflict resolution and how to problem solve with friends and classmates. In classrooms, I’ve been giving presentations to the older grades with a lesson called “Is It Rude, Mean or Bullying?”. This has been a great way to allow students to identify negative behaviors and language and how to counteract being rude, mean, or bullying.
Jennifer Girard: I believe the most important part of my work is building relationships: with administration, teachers, students, and families. It is with those relationships that I can really start to understand what is needed for a campus, for a grade level, or for a specific classroom. I create lessons based on the information from administration, teachers, students, and families. I have facilitated more than 50 Social Emotional Learning (SEL) lessons thus far between Happy Valley and Springhill that focus on such a wide variety of topics. According to the American School Counselor Association, the best practice for a school counselor is for 45% of their time to be providing SEL lessons – this really allows the campus to get to know who I am, and really assists with how people (both teachers and students) seek out my support.
What is your top recommended online resource for parents?
Gwen Hardin: There are some great websites out there for parents that I myself as a parent like to use.
Child Mind Institute (https://childmind.org/) – it’s a great website with information on how parents can best support their child with specific needs.
Kids Health (https://kidshealth.org/) – a great site that offers a wealth of information with tips and advice for parents, kids, teens, and teachers on multiple topics from general health, growth and development, to social emotional feelings.
FamilyEducation (https://www.familyeducation.com/) – another great resource that offers educational information, activities, and parenting articles.
Jennifer Girard: Any resource that connects for a parent around their own social emotional wellness – maybe it's a mindfulness app like Insight Timer, or an exercise app for yoga classes. I believe that a parent's own wellness is a large predictor for how their child will manage their own social emotional challenges. I do follow Dr. Becky, Good Inside, and really enjoy her insight.
What would you tell your elementary-school-aged self today?
Gwen Hardin: I would tell my elementary school self today that even though the world seems confusing and difficult, you’re doing great. Keep studying hard. Don’t be scared to talk to your teachers when in doubt; they are there for you to help you be the best student you can be. Remember mom and dad are there for you, enjoy being with your friends, and don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
Jennifer Girard: Making mistakes means you tried something new and wonderful things happen from new experiences.