By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
that, she limits activities so the time can be spent talking.
West has been a school counselor for five years and she said that with the restructuring of schools that occurred in 2001, she has had a few of the older students in her group for all five years.
"What they understand now versus what they understood in kindergarten, there's really a big change," she said.
The younger students love to talk, but have trouble listening, she said. The older students also have a better ability to help each other. For the younger students, she said, the group is a good start in gaining those skills.
West also sees the children in later years who have coped very successfully with a divorce.
"Sometimes you have a child who is two years past, and things are great again," she said. "They help someone whose parents just divorced."
The divorce group itself has been available for at least 15 years, she said.
Every day Dana West sits down with a different set of elementary school students and encourages them to talk about their parents' divorce.
She has 23 students at Sunnyside Intermediate School and 29 at Lincoln-McKinley Primary who participate in the counseling sessions. At each school, the students are split into four groups.
All of the students' parents are getting or have gotten a divorce. West gives them an opportunity to share their feelings with her and with each other.
Students need permission from their parents to participate in the eight-week group, but West said the decision to join is primarily in the hands of the children.
Her youngest participants are second-graders, and West knows getting a permission slip turned in requires real interest on the part of the young students.
"To get a letter home, get the parents to sign it, and get it back into the book bag and back to school is a lot," she said.
She said she visits each classroom twice to talk about the program before the counseling groups form, and sometimes sends letters home to be sure everyone knows about it.
Parents also approach West directly, wanting their children to join. She sometimes contacts a parent to suggest his or her child join the group, she said.
Each eight-week group begins with one of the few activities West gives the students, drawing a picture. Every child starts his or her own picture, then passes it around a circle and works on the next student's picture until each one has added to each picture.
This gives them an opportunity to get to know one another and build trust, West said. Beyond