Education

Ten of the Biggest Challenges Faced by School Counselors in 2017

Ten of the Biggest Challenges Faced by School Counselors in 2017
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Inequity

The disparity between schools in low-income and wealthy areas is growing, and so is the impact on students, as school counselors understand.

"We need to be aware of that and be on top if it as much as possible," Sparks maintains. "We need to look for additional resources that could be helpful for students to explore a career and post-secondary opportunities. It might be developing relationships with local businesses, with community organizations, and with faith-based organizations as well, to try to fill that gap as much as possible. There can be differences from district to district, but also within schools in the same district as to what resources are available. That's why counselors need to develop resource lists and make them available to students and parents."

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Immigration

Back in February, our post headlined "Activist: In Trump Age, Verbal Racism Aimed at Denver Kids of Color Is Rising" talked about the phenomenon of Latino children being accused by their Caucasian peers of being illegal immigrants no matter their actual immigration status.

"We're hearing cases of that" on a national level, Sparks concedes. "They're more anecdotal, and we don't have real data at this point in terms of how widespread it is. But we're hearing it quite a bit — and counselors need to help students work through that. We don't necessarily have easy answers for students afraid that their parents might be deported, or that they might be deported, or some combination thereof. But we need to help them to know what their resources are and help them to know where supports are, so they can get a handle on the situation as best they can."

He adds that "things have changed with the different direction the new administration is taking — and it's an issue that's been a real challenge for school counselors, and schools as a whole. But we need to help every student in school feel safe and feel part of the school, and also to work with students who might be bullying other students because of perceived immigration or racial issues around that — work with them to develop relationships with students, adults in the building and the community that are appropriate."

Planning

Even as school counselors have to deal with the panoply of issues outlined above, they still have to execute the more customary parts of their job — such as helping students prepare for life as a grownup.

"There's a huge focus on post-secondary planning, and not just from the high school perspective," Sparks says. "We're looking at helping students on the path to higher education, including college and community colleges with two-year degrees, but also helping students who want to go into the military or move directly into a career. And we're working with kids to figure out these options literally as early as kindergarten. At that age, it's more about awareness, but it gets much more specific as time goes on."

Balance

A school counselors' job was full enough already — and now, with so many other responsibilities, figuring out a way to keep all the plates spinning has become much more difficult.

"That's one of the things we'll be focused on a lot at this conference — helping school counselors develop a comprehensive school counseling program that is designed to address all these issues, whether they're the traditional ones that we've been experiencing for years or ones that are popping up all the time, whether they be social-media issues, immigration issues, gender-identity issues," Sparks reveals. "We need to learn how to fit those within a school counseling program so that we can help to address them across the board — not just for students who are having trouble, but also helping to address academic, career, social and emotional development needs for all students. Some of that will include being in a classroom setting, some of it will involve small-group settings, and some of it will be individual counseling. But it's all part of a bigger program that takes time and energy and training to develop."

Burnout

The multitude of tasks that school counselors are called upon to accomplish these days definitely add up, and as a result, Sparks says, "burnout can be a really big issue. We see statistics showing a lot of people not making it past five years before they leave the education field — and one of the big issues that connects to that is the student-to-school counselor ratio. The recommended ratio is one counselor to 250 students, but that often isn't met. The national average is one to 490. Colorado is below that, at one to 395, so there's been some good work here in recognizing the needs and working to reduce the ratio. But there are some districts around the country where the ratio is one to over 1,000. So we still have a ways to go in this area."

In Sparks's view, "We need to work with teachers and administrators to help them to understand the role of the school counselor, and to make sure they realize the role the school counselor can play. The school counselor is often thought of as the person who works with high school students to schedule courses and so on. But there's a whole different realm of responsibility that school counselors have today, and we need to educate folks in the school about that, as well as collaborating with them both inside and outside the school to help students. Because that's the most important thing."

The 2017 ASCA Annual Conference takes place July 8-11 at the Colorado Convention Center. Welcoming remarks will be delivered by Governor John Hickenlooper and Dr. Martin Dahinden, the Ambassador of Switzerland to the United States. For registration information, a complete schedule and more, click to access the ASCA Annual Conference page.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts