HIV/AIDS Knowledge and Beliefs among Pre-Service and In-Service School Counselors. (General Features)

Article excerpt

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) are major and growing concerns in American education (McFarland & Oliver, 1999). Numerous public health experts and health promotion advocates have identified several reasons HIV/AIDS has become an important issue for education professionals including: (a) an increasing number of reported HIV/AIDS cases among young people (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 1999); (b) the need for HIV/AIDS education among students (Langer, Tubman, & Duncan, 1998) and staff (Brucker & Hall, 1996); and (c) the availability of resource personnel within the school community to provide support on HIV positive students and/or their families (McFarland & Oliver).

Between 500,000 and one million people in the United States currently are believed to be infected with HIV (CDC, 1998). It is estimated that at least half of all new infections in the United States occur in people younger than 25, and the majority of the young people are infected sexually (Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, 1999; CDC, 1999).

There is little question that school-age children and youth are at risk of either contracting HIV/AIDS themselves or being affected by the infection in a friend or significant adult (CDC, 1998). In this context, students who are infected with the virus or who are confronted with HIV/AIDS in a loved one may face grief, loss, shame, abandonment, depression, anger, anxiety, and hopelessness that can compromise academic success (Hedge, 1996; Holt, Houg, & Romano, 1999).

Role of the School Counselor in Context of HIV/AIDS Issues

School counselors routinely interact with students on the following topics: divorce, substance abuse, teen sexuality, depression, suicide, sexual and physical abuse, problems with family and friends, concerns about career and future, and questions about the meaning of life. School counselors contribute unique and valuable services within the school setting and therefore play a vital role in children's lives.

HIV/AIDS education, prevention, and support services in school are best approached using a collaborative model (Allensworth & Kolbe, 1987). Whereas health educators may be experts in dealing with the education and prevention strategies used when teaching students and staff about HIV/AIDS, counseling services provided by school counselors are essential for students experiencing pervasive issues such as psychosocial problems, stressful situations, and crises and emergencies that are often associated when working with a student infected or affected by the disease (Adelman, 1998). In addition, intervention strategies that address psychosocial factors such as low self-esteem and peer pressure, and use techniques such as problem solving, decision making, and assertiveness training, can help promote healthy behaviors that reduce the risk of contracting HIV.

As the number of children and adolescents infected or affected by HIV/AIDS has increased, so have the identified responsibilities of school counselors who work with this population (Cobia, Carney, & Waggoner, 1998; McFarland & Oliver, 1999). It is predicted that in the near future all professionals who work in schools will have direct or indirect contact with a student who is infected with or affected by HIV disease (Landau, Pryor, & Haefli, 1995).

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA, 1999), in a position statement titled The School Counselor and HIV/AIDS, suggested the following:

   The school counselor focuses on AIDS and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus
   (HIV) as a disease and not as a moral issue. The in-service school
   counselor promotes prevention, health, and education, while providing a
   vital link to the well being of students, staff, parents, and the
   community. (p. 1)

This research investigated in-service and pre-service school counselors' current levels of HIV/AIDS-related knowledge and attitudes, and the demographic factors potentially associated with HIV/AIDS knowledge and attitudes. …