Positive Power: School Counselors Are Often the First Line of Defense for Solving Behavior and Academic Problems. Why Mandating Elementary Counselors and Group Counseling Makes Sense for Your District
Pascopella, Angela, District Administration
One spring day in the Sabino
Canyon in Tucson, Ariz., a mountain lion roams the nearby Ford Elementary School yard, frightening the dickens out of youngsters at the K-5 school.
Another day an unknown suspicious-looking man donning a french coat lurks around another school fence in Tucson. And yet another day, an alleged robber rims through a Tucson school hall to elude police on his tail.
The bizarre occurrences lead to a school lockdown, where all doors are locked and no one can leave or come in, shedding light on the vital importance of one person in the school: The school counselor.
This person not only encourages top students into the best college that fits their ability and coaxes at-risk students to kick it up a notch in grades, but they can also calm anxious students in the face of potential threats to their safety.
"Counselors get involved. They want to calm the kids down. We always tell kids the facts. This is what we know. We say, 'There is a lion on the playground so you have to stay here where it's sate and secure,' " according to Judy Bowers, coordinator for guidance and counseling at Tucson Unified School District 1 and president-elect of the American School Counselor Association.
The role of the school counselor has evolved over the past century that the profession has existed, according to Jill Cook, director of programs at ASCA. Counselors originally came to schools as vocational counselors to help students find work when they left school. In the 1950s, another significant shift occurred where counselors led students into more math and science following the Russians' Sputnik in space feat and the U.S. government feared becoming outsmarted. Since then, the role of the counselor has evolved to be more comprehensive. The emotional aspect of counselors came into play in the late 1960s with the explosion civil rights. Theorist Carl Rogers brought to light the importance of tuning in to students' emotions. Over the past decade, ASCA changed the title of "guidance counselor" to "school counselor," Cook says.
Although only 17 percent of schools report that the most emphasized goal of guidance programs is helping students with personal growth and development, counselors are more recently helping children feel safe in their classrooms and school buildings, a job that became more popular, and necessary, in the last decade, studies and experts say.
Counselors are trained to deal with crises and then, ff necessary, lead students and their parents to other community services, such as mental health workers or family services. And given the importance of the counselor as a first responder to student needs, some states mandate elementary school counselors. States that lack mandates have experts pushing for elementary school counselors. "At the state level, we have been working as an association in getting legislative and policy chambers to recognize the role of school counselors," says Patricia Nailor, director of counseling and social services for Providence (R.I.) City School District. But there is no mandate for elementary counselors in Rhode Island and positions are still being cut. "Kids are more than academic little machines," Nailor says. "They need other support. To see elementary counseling positions cut frightens me ... given domestic violence and poverty. They need someone to talk to."
Signs of progress are appearing in New York. A recent meeting with state Department of Education officials showed Deborah Hardy, guidance and counseling department chair at Irvington (N.Y.) High School, that the officials want connections. "Their thrust was to say, 'We know the standards are there and we know the exams students need to pass but we need to increase the humanistic approach to schools. Adults need to connect to kids and we need to eliminate the emotional barriers so they will learn,' " Hardy recalls. …