Helping School Counselors Cope with Violence: "[Their Role] in Responding to a Crisis Varies from School to School. What Is Important, However, Is That the Safety of All Students Is Ensured and That a Plan Is in Place Which Reflects the Unique Characteristics of That School." (Education)

By Alexander, Charlene M. | USA TODAY, January 2002 | Go to article overview

Helping School Counselors Cope with Violence: "[Their Role] in Responding to a Crisis Varies from School to School. What Is Important, However, Is That the Safety of All Students Is Ensured and That a Plan Is in Place Which Reflects the Unique Characteristics of That School." (Education)


Alexander, Charlene M., USA TODAY


A TYPICAL DAY for an American high school counselor has changed dramatically in the last decade. Ten years ago, few of them had to deal with students so distraught and unhappy that they would bring guns to school or threaten to blow up the cafeteria. Once, school counselors believed that violence would not occur in their school; today, the thinking is, "When will it happen?"

A 2001 survey of 15,000 teenagers across the country found that more than one in three students feel unsafe in school; 43% of high school and 37% of middle school boys believe it is permissible to hit or threaten somebody who has made them angry; 75% of boys and 60% of girls had hit someone during the last 12 months because they were angry; 21% of high school boys as well as 15% of middle school boys had a weapon with them at school at least once during the past school year; and 60% of high school boys and 31% of middle school boys stated that they could get a gun if they desired to. It is not surprising that counselors' perceptions of the satiety of their school has become quite different in the last 10 years. School counseling training curricula has changed as well to address their needs.

When I started preparing counselors almost 10 years ago, few schools had crisis plans that directly addressed violence. Now, it should be an integral part of every school's crisis management plan. Schools have incorporated a variety of security components. These may include surveillance and security cameras, student conduct codes that are rigorously enforced, search-and-seizure procedures, student identification, dress codes, restricted access to schools, suspension, expulsion, referral to law enforcement agencies, and anonymous telephone call-in services to report possible violence in the school. They have worked closely with law enforcement agencies to identify local gang members, provided alternative recreation programs to reduce gang membership, inaugurated model discipline and dress policies, and instituted graffiti removal on and around school property as a means to curb the presence of gangs in school buildings.

As violent acts escalate across the country, counselor training programs are responding by increasing the amount of time spent raising awareness to the issues of violence in schools. Counselor educators around the country are providing the knowledge and skills necessary to identify and counsel youth who are at risk and preparing students to advocate the resources they will need to work with at-risk populations.

People typically apply to school counseling programs because they enjoy working with children and believe that they can have a significant impact on the life of youngsters. Training programs can heighten their awareness of the issues of violence in schools by employing a number of strategies. First and foremost, it is imperative that counselor trainees have opportunities early and throughout their training programs to have field-based experiences in schools. This could involve interviewing school counselors about a day in their lives or giving psycho-educational presentations to K-12 students. These types of activities allow trainees to get connected with schools early in their training program and heighten their awareness to issues faced by counselors on a daily basis.

One strategy that can be used to heighten their awareness to the incidence of violence on school campuses is to tour the local juvenile facility center. In one such tour I completed with a group of school counseling students, they were surprised by the range in age of the resident population, from six to 18, and the diversity of presenting problems, including aggravated assault, robbery, and sexual misconduct. Trainees typically return from these tours with a new sense of the types and severity of problems they will be faced with as a counselor. Increasing counselors' awareness has to involve a team-based approach. Successful schools utilize a broad-based integration of violence prevention and multicultural education courses across the curriculum.

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Helping School Counselors Cope with Violence: "[Their Role] in Responding to a Crisis Varies from School to School. What Is Important, However, Is That the Safety of All Students Is Ensured and That a Plan Is in Place Which Reflects the Unique Characteristics of That School." (Education)
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