If anybody deserves a standing ovation, it’s our overworked and often under appreciated school guidance counselors. This is National School Counseling Week, a great time for applauding their crucial role in school communities. Aside from hugging your guidance counselors, check out the American School Counselor Association’s website for ideas on celebrating them.
The theme for 2017 is “School Counseling: Helping Students Realize Their Potential,” and that’s exactly what guidance counselors do by uncovering students’ abilities, strengths, interests and talents. The “2012 National Survey of School Counselors” described their influence this way: “A single adult can change a child’s life. In schools across the country, counselors are uniquely positioned to change countless lives.”
People don’t realize the many responsibilities school guidance counselors have. But I do. Back in Utah, guidance counselors were my partners in reaching and inspiring students. My experience was not unique. In the best schools, guidance counselors are plugged into just about everything that happens, key players in making sure our students have the opportunity for a well-rounded educational experience that prepares them for great futures.
School guidance counselors play a role in our students’ academic development and social and emotional learning. They are often instrumental in helping students decide on future educational and career plans. And in some circumstances, they are the trusted facilitators who help parents and children communicate through a rough patch.
The 2012 national survey highlighted these crucial functions, but warned that guidance counselors are often “overwhelmed with important, but misallocated work; and they are held accountable for the wrong things. Without a clear focus, they function as the jack-of-100-trades. As a result, schools fail to take advantage of the wonderful resource that counselors are, and family and community partners miss opportunities to support students’ success.”
Numbers tell the story: According to the American School Counselor Association, sponsor of School Counseling Week, the average student-to-counselor ratio is 491:1,with Wyoming students getting the best deal (211:1), and Arizona students, the worst (941:1). The association recommends a ratio of 250:1. An article in The Atlantic noted: “In far too many schools, security officers outnumber school counselors.” The article also noted that more than 850,000students don’t have access to a guidance counselor at all—and this means they are denied the support and tools that all students, regardless of ZIP code, deserve in public schools.
Organizations such as The Aspen Institute’s National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development, of which NEA is a member of the Partners Collaborative, want schools to be able to focus more attention on students’ social and emotional skills. That approach will definitely elevate the importance of school guidance counselors.
Also, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) should lead to additional support for these unsung heroes. Most of the provisions that apply to school counseling are found in the “Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants” within ESSA, which are meant to “improve conditions for learning to create healthy and safe school environments.”
Of course, we have to stay engaged in efforts to implement the new law to make sure counseling programs and services get the resources they need. So while we’re giving a shout out to school guidance counselors, let’s also extend to them the support they give students across America.