From vocational guidance, to guidance counselor, to school counselor, the role of a school counselor has changed drastically in the last 100 years. That’s right. We’ve been around for a century! School counselors started out as vocational guidance counselors, helping young adults plan and prepare for college and work. Along with every other job in education, the role and duties of a school counselor have been changed and added to for a century.
Mental health has become a greater focus in the last couple of decades. We know that these problems are not going away. They exist in poverty, in wealth, in males, females, adults, children, in every town and certainly every school. School counseling has shifted to help support the rising need of mental health services for children and their families. School counselors are not just there for college applications anymore. We work for all students and have taken on an integral role in providing students with one of the many important pieces of their comprehensive and multi-layered education. We are part of a team that often includes the student, administrators, parents, teachers and outside/community agencies.
School counselors are now often found at all levels, K-12, and are there for ALL students. Our job is to create a guidance program and provide a curriculum that reaches and is available to all students. The foundation to a comprehensive school counseling program is to reach all children and teach them about academic, personal/social and career skills. This is usually done by delivering guidance lessons to classes or small groups. At Central Elementary, each class comes to guidance for 30 minutes every six days, where we learn about things like values, goals, careers, social skills and so much more. I also provide individual and group counseling opportunities. Many school counselors were trained in the same program as therapists, but school counselors do not provide in-depth therapy for many reasons. The main reason is because we simply do not have the time. Our counseling is short-term and solution-focused. We are there for ALL students, not just a few. A full time therapist sees 20-25 clients per week. At Central Elementary, we are up to 720 students. It would take me three months to see each child one time for a half an hour. Therefore, seeing over 600 students per week by utilizing guidance lessons and quick “check-ins,” is something I am proud to say that I do. School counselors do some individual counseling on a regular basis, and we do our best to provide that child with the best opportunities for him/her to succeed. We talk to children about things that most people don’t ever want to know happens to children, and we talk to children about how proud we are that they made a good choice on the playground. It varies from day to day. Some days the world seems okay, the next week, it might seem like it’s falling apart. The things we talk to children about on a daily basis are sometimes very hard to hear and digest. School counselors know that as long as we have the best interest of the child in mind, we are making a difference. Knowing that is what keeps us coming back every day, even after those really rough days.
The truth is, there are more needs than there is time, and more students on my caseload than I can ever keep up with. I do my best to reach as many students as I can, but I will never be able to meet all the needs. For every child I help, there are 10 that I am not getting to, and at times that feels defeating and incredibly overwhelming. Despite that, I want to express how proud and lucky I am to work at Central Elementary. The teachers, administrators and other staff understand the need to care for and develop the whole child - academically, socially, and emotionally. The teachers support my guidance lessons. They support my time with students to help that student grow personally and overcome obstacles that impede learning. The administrators collaborate with me to provide the best possible situation for our students and take each child as a separate, important, individual case. I could not ask for a better team to work with. With that being said, my colleagues are not the reason I come to work every day. The students are the reason I do what I do. They are the people that I come to work for every day. Children are often the strongest, most resilient humans I know. They manage to find their way through many obstacles that would be too much for even some adults to handle. Children truly are incredible little people.
Much has changed since the first “vocational guidance counselor” and our position will continue to grow and adapt to the needs of our children and the education system. School counselors are not what they used to be, and for good reason. The social and mental health needs of our students continue to rise. As they do, we will be here and will do our best to support your child, whatever it is that they need to grow and reach their greatest potential.
(Emily Kruse is a counselor with the Nevada School District at Central Elementary School.)