How A School Counselor is Approaching Going Back to School

Tell us more about your role as a school counselor.

I am a professional school counselor where I service pre-K through fifth-grade students. The majority of my students receive free and reduced lunch. So a lot of them come from homes near the poverty line and deal with trauma at home.

I work one-on-one with a lot of students, but also with families as well. And I’ve been a counselor now going into my seventh year. Before that, I was an elementary school teacher for eight years. This is my 15th year as an educator.

I just love being an advocate for our students and families. I just knew, when I was working with students, how much I wanted to be an advocate for those students who just didn’t know how to express themselves appropriately, and possibly didn’t know how to talk to their families as well. I really enjoy working with the student population that I have and just knowing that I’m making some type of connections for them.

What have the past few months been like at school?

That was a very anxiety-filled time. But then, not only was I thinking about myself and my family, I was thinking about those students who I know are going home to nothing. So that was a time where I had to say, okay, how can I provide for these students? What can I do without putting myself or others in danger, and also sleep well at night knowing that they’re okay?

I thought about all the families that I’ve helped during the school year on a normal basis. I reached out to them to ask how I could help. And immediately some families were like, “oh my goodness, thank you, I didn’t know that this is a possibility.”

I was able to raise a little over about $1,200 for families in a matter of days, with food or other types of resources needed. A lot of families didn’t have transportation to get to certain food banks so we would drop off packages.

How did communicating with students at home affect your work as a school counselor?

It was an interesting time because normally I can see students one-on-one who may need to talk to me about certain issues that are happening at home. And now, it’s harder to know what students are dealing with at home. When the camera is off during distance learning, you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes/screens.

And so, some kids didn’t feel comfortable talking and telling you, “Hey, this is what’s happening in my home,” because the person or whoever may be around. And so it was really hard trying to figure out how to reach those students.

Overall it was hard, but I felt like by uploading videos every day, by making sure I send links out through Class Dojo and other platforms we’ve used, that was the best I could do at the time. Hopefully this year it’ll look a little bit different.

How have you prepared for this school year and how do you think it will be different?

Having a schedule is a great thing for families. I expect, now that the district has a full plan and schedule in place, that having structure helps support families and their needs.

The structure also provides relief where families are no longer filled with anxiety about what their children should be doing. And the children feel comfortable with a schedule that is more like what they’re used to, whether it’s having breaks for rest and relaxation because sitting in front of the computer all day is not a healthy thing.

Also, the counseling department is providing us with professional development on how to properly do telemental health, and how to properly provide meetings with families over the computer. So I think counselors will be going in feeling a lot more comfortable, knowing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, and how they’re supposed to be doing it. I think the county is doing a good job of just being very transparent with its plans.

How do you navigate providing one-on-one counseling services to students when their home environment may not be private? 

One strategy is to use a chat feature. For older students who can type well, they may shoot you a little message. That right there is very helpful because if they’re telling me they need help with a situation, I know I need to send out the proper people to the home to look out.

Of course, I try to tell teachers that in their live lessons they can now see what’s happening. Sometimes you can just tell what things are going on in the background. You may not want to point that out on camera, but you can take notes and connect with the right resources later. So teachers are becoming more aware of noticing things through video chat which has been helpful.

Right now I know that students are anxiety-filled, and it’s important to make sure everyone understands that this child may come across this way because they’re filled with anxiety, or they may not be participating as much because they’re filled with anxiety.

I think it’s still going to be a struggle for those little ones who can’t type, that do not know how to share or have their parents are right there. That’s the toughest part. And I don’t know how that will be combated.

How do you and your school anticipate meeting the needs of more students dealing with trauma at this time?

The great thing that the county is doing is that they are requiring all teachers to teach social and emotional lessons. It’s really hands-on and gets the kids singing, dancing, and reading different stories – really being totally in tune with their emotions. And so to have the teachers able to implement that into their lessons, I think that is a great way for them to point out how to deal with anxiety and stress.

Trauma is a whole other issue. Students are experiencing acute forms of trauma. And many have experienced some big trauma, whether it’s deaths in their families or whether they’ve had to move from one place to another during COVID. I know I’ve had families that actually were moving during that time to different states.

I don’t know what that’s like to have to deal with something like that. Or having to spend their birthday in the house. That could be an acute trauma issue that they had to face. So those are areas where the counselor will come in to play to have that one-on-one.

I know at the end of last school year, it was difficult because there were so many touch-and-gos with confidentiality and making sure we were properly doing it. So hopefully this year, those small groups and one-on-ones could be fully implemented and be very effective. I think it can be, doing counseling online. And I just hope that we can really focus on those traumatic issues in a way that everyone feels comfortable doing it.

What advice do you have for a school counselor navigating the current situation?

I always just say this during this time, just give grace to everyone, because we are all going through something that we have never experienced. And adults too have to juggle working from home, figuring out how to support their families, and then dealing with their own emotional needs and mental health needs. So just allowing grace for everyone, I think, in truly understanding that the structure of your classroom is not going to look the same, and that’s okay. That’s okay.

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