School counselors are a familiar part of the education ecosystem. Charged with guiding students through school safely and confidently, and with preparing students for a world outside of school, counselors are a vital part of education, as well.
Faced with an uncertain school year, today counselors are working to carry out their duties amidst massive changes to how education is delivered. Here’s how school counselors across the country are responding.
Defining the Counselor
What does a school counselor do? Their jobs might seem opaque to administrators, tech experts, and educators who don’t interact with counselors as directly as students do.
The American School Counselor Association defines the modern role of counselors this way:
Gone are the days of school counselors sitting in their office simply handing out college applications, making schedule changes for students who want to drop a class, or waiting for a crisis to occur. Today’s school counselors are vital members of the education team. They help all students in the areas of academic achievement, career and social/emotional development, ensuring today’s students become the productive, well-adjusted adults of tomorrow.American School Counselor Association
With these important responsibilities, counselors are now looking for ways to improve the experience of students who are being educated in unfamiliar ways.
School Counseling and COVID-19
Across the U.S., counselors are developing ways to support students during periods of remote and hybrid learning. In New Hampshire, local schools have focused on social-emotional learning (SEL), especially in the elementary grades. In Arizona — a state with one of the highest counselor-to-student ratios — tech tools are vital, and grants are helping schools hire more counselors.
Funding for counseling is a major concern, as districts and schools face changing funding sources. In California, educators are pushing for more services for students, but running into budget concerns.
And while some districts in California are not facing substantial cuts, an uncertain economy makes it difficult for districts to plan ahead. As Troy Flint, spokesman for the California School Boards Association, tells EdSource:
Although the state budget leaves K-12 funding mostly intact, the unstable economy has hindered districts’ ability to plan long-term. About 80-90% of a district’s revenue goes toward personnel costs, including salaries, benefits and pensions, leaving very little budget flexibility, he said.Carolyn Jones, “Schools want to hire more counselors amid budget woes” EdSource
Mental health concerns, the long-term effects of illness, isolation, and sudden change, are paramount problems for counselors. From support groups for immunocompromised people to online “relaxation rooms,” counselors at colleges and schools are looking for ways to connect at a distance.
If we can be the kind of people that lead that within the school environment, what to do, how to respond, how to make these kids feel like they are important, if we can take on that role as a leader and everyone else can emulate that, then I think that’s a good head start for the kids, and that’s a good environment for them to be in.Counselor Trent Bramberg to ABC News Birmingham
Reallocating resources to counseling and mental health is also a consideration for many districts. In some California districts that have eliminated or cut the budget of district police departments are moving those funds to support student mental health services. UCLA doctoral student Elianny Edwards, who has researched the issue, told EdSurge that “Allocating funding to mental health services is a preventative way to create safer schools, whereas hiring more police is reactive.”
The current moment in education is likely to have lasting effects as time progresses. Some see this as a sign that counseling services are more important than ever in education.
In Forbes, education writer Brennan Barnard makes an economic case that an investment in counseling now is a long-term investment in society.
As we rush to bolster our nation’s economy with trillions of dollars, we must be sure not to miss the forest for the trees. There is no question that we need to protect small businesses, workers, and many other vulnerable people and companies at this time of crisis. But we also have to be intentional about long-range planning, and the frontlines of our future are school counselors. As revenue dries up in many states that fund their public schools through tax dollars, we need to find ways to support these institutions amid budget cuts and protect the very individuals we will rely on to guide tomorrow’s leaders and workers.Brennan Barnard, “Stimulate This: How School Counselors Will Help Save Our Post-Pandemic Future” Forbes
Even comparatively short-term effects — think four months in lockdown, and the accompanying associated social and economic challenges — are changing the need and urgency for counseling.
Between closed schools, social isolation, food scarcity and parental unemployment, the coronavirus pandemic has so destabilized kids’ support systems that the result, counselors say, is genuinely traumatic.Cory Turner, “Closed Schools Are Creating More Trauma For Students” NPR Morning Edition
Luckily, that urgency is being felt, and resources are being compiled for educators and counselors to tackle the difficulties of teaching and learning right now.
- Texas Counseling Association: COVID-19 Resources for Counselors
- American School Counselor Association: School Counseling During COVID-19
- American School Counselor Association: School Counseling During COVID-19: Online Lessons and Resources
- Kentucky Department of Education: COVID-19 Resources for Comprehensive School Counseling
- American University: COVID-19 Resources for School Counselors