By ETV Education
February 1st marks the beginning of National School Counseling Week.
Though not as predominately displayed, school counselors play a critical role in educating the whole student.
They provide academic support, social and emotional support, and help students navigate pathways to their futures.
Recently, SCETV Education had an opportunity to chat with the 2020 Palmetto State School Counselor Association School Counselors of the Year and the 2020 South Carolina Career and Technical Education Counselor of the Year. Hear from Terina Gardner (Bethel-Hanberry Elementary School), Clayton Henke (Pelion Middle School), Donna Huger (Dutch Fork High School), and Dorothya Nero (Irmo High School) below.
How are your students doing and how have you had to pivot to meet their needs?
TG: My students are adapting to this new normal. It has been difficult for them to navigate in a virtual classroom, but they are learning how to and improving daily. We are a school who welcomes students with warm hugs and hellos so not doing so has been a challenge. Although adjusting to daily changes, increased anxiety, uncertainty, missing that social interaction has been a struggle, students have continued displaying our school’s character traits of L.E.A.D.ing- listening carefully, engaging in safety, acting responsibly and demonstrating respect.
CH: Not well. Our virtual learners are disconnected. They are not engaging in learning. They are hard to reach, if we can reach them at all. I can't even begin to hit on all of the things I have early heard or hypothesized, but they just feel lost to me. Children are resilient, and our face-to-face learners are adapting as well as they can give the uncertainty and constantly changing schedules. There is a lot more generalized anxiety out there, too. In term of numbers, it's hard to say because we don't know long-term effects. I can say that in terms of academics, our average grades are about ten points lower this year than pre-pandemic. How have we responded? We have done a lot more work with families to identify needs. We already had a great relationship with our Social Worker, but we still saw an increase in referrals. I worry that our families are not fully sharing the extent of concerns, so those numbers should be going up. For students, we have created a virtual counseling center with a calm down space, we have made all lessons virtual so we can still reach them all, we have made ourselves more open for appointments, we have reached out to students regularly in multiple formats, etc.
DH: Students are a microcosm of our society. Not only have they had to adjust to a variety of learning models, they, along with their families, friends and communities have had to adjust our social lives, how we go about shopping, eating out and even attending church. These changes were immediate and have been constant, and everyone has had an opinion on how things should be. As a professional school counselor, I have always seen myself as the linchpin to bring together the needed resources a student needs to be successful academically and to prepare for full post-secondary options. That has not changed. The one aspect that I think remains the same regardless of any situation, is that as a school counselor you must see each student and parent as the unique individuals that they are. There is no one size fits all approach. Yes, there are requirements, expectations and guidelines that must be met, but being present and mindful with each student, each parent and for the most part, each person you meet and talk with is the key. People need to be heard, then understood. They need to know that you care and that you are doing the very best that you can for them, despite the situation.
DN: All aspects of education changed drastically seemingly overnight. The transition to virtual and/or hybrid learning has been an adjustment, altering social norms to accommodate social distancing has been an adjustment; however, students are resilient and have met each change and challenge with heroic effort. While serving students in a hybrid and virtual model has caused school counselors to pivot, it has also strengthened our approach to counseling by incorporating technology and virtual platforms. Google Meet has been a great tool used to connect with students to provide academic, personal/social and career counseling. An increased emphasis has also been placed on social/emotional counseling and assisting students with navigating life in a pandemic.
Why did you choose this profession and educational sector?
TG: I chose this profession because I wanted to be an influence in an effort to deter young people from making choices that would cause them to be a statistic in the criminal justice system. I had previously worked at the alternative, middle and intermediate school levels. I enjoyed working with older students but had never considered working with younger students until a position opened at one of the elementary schools in my district. I was curious about the role of a school counselor at the elementary level. I honestly wanted to see how the role is different at different levels. The moment I accepted the position I said, “What have I done!” I can truly say joining the elementary school counselor world has been the highlight of my career.
CH: I wanted to help people. I spent ten years in a reactive profession, and I wanted to help more on the front end. I've been a school counselor in South Carolina for more than ten years now, and I love having the positive impact. I didn't choose middle level...it chose me! I've heard for years that "we are where we are supposed to be," and I can finally admit that the statement is true. I had been working for years with high schoolers, and I applied for a high school job. I didn't get that job, but the interviewers liked me and offered me a position in a middle school. I was reluctant to take it at first, but I thought it was a sign. It was a great decision! I love my job and my school!
DH: I truly believe that this profession chose me. I selected a field in the medical profession, but somehow was always drawn to student services and education. Also, I chose this profession because of the experiences I received from the educators in my life. They modeled for me what it meant to be an educator truly dedicated to the positive development of their students. I wanted to be like them!
Having initially worked at the collegiate level for over 12 years, making the move to high school was seamless. I worked mainly with the TRIO program, Student Support Services, and the GEARUP program while working with several colleges. I met students who were first generation college students and I felt there was a greater need to work with them prior to them enrolling in college. While working as the Program Manager for the GEARUP program, one of my colleagues made that statement that she thought I would make a great high school counselor. That was the spark that lit the fire. I entered the profession as a school counselor in the year 2000, and I never considered leaving.
DN: I am the daughter of a lifelong educator. Because I “grew up” in education I knew I wanted to be an educator, the position I would hold was still uncertain until I met my high school counselor, Shirley Taylor. She had such a profound impact on my life through her role as advocate, motivator, and mentor during my career as a high school student I knew that I wanted to be to other students what she had been to me during the most challenging and transformative time of my life. I absolutely love working with high school students. It is my belief these years in a child’s life are the most formative and the guidance provided during this time has a direct impact on lifelong success. As a 12-year veteran, my favorite day of the school year is and has always been graduation day. The culmination of hard work, perseverance, and the excitement of them beginning the “next chapter” always brings tears of joy to my eyes. Each one of my students has impacted my life and I am a better person and school counselor because of them!
What are your favorite counseling apps or tools?
TG: A few of my favorite counseling apps or tools are Flip grid, google classroom, google meet, Bitmoji classroom, Padlet, Youtube, and Go Noodle.
CH: I'm old-school, and I don't have a favorite technology. I really feel like people need to be heard, understood, and appreciated. Sometimes, just our presence is an intervention. So, I guess Zoom is the closest to that when students aren't in our building.
DH: I love technology, so to narrow it down is challenging. I love the Google Suite of applications. They have made delivering programs and services to students and parents more effective and efficient. The ability to share your calendar for students and parents to make appointments that are most convenient to them is so liberating. Being able to use Google Surveys to gather pre/post perception and process data has been awesome. Currently, I am loving all the Social Emotional support applications that are available to everyone. For example, Breathing Apps and Calming apps that assist with mindfulness and helping to deal with stress have all been great tools. I am a firm believer that if it is positive, and I can learn how to use it to benefit my school, then I’m all for it!
DN: I have many favorites but here are my Top 5 (not in ranking order)
- HeadSpace (Free for Educators which focuses on Meditation, mindfulness, free music playlists for focus & mood, community building, exercises (mindful movement to connect with your body)
- Habit Tracker which focuses on productivity, helps build healthy habits & routines, encourages users to effectively meet goals.
- Calm App which focuses on mindfulness & meditation
- SAT: Practice & Prep and ACT: Prep Coach & Practice geared toward college admissions testing,
- CollegeHunch which is a user-friendly college search engine Social Media platform, (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)
What advice do you have for parents concerned about their students' social and emotional well-being?
TG: My advice to parents would be to contact their child’s school for resources and assistance. Communicate concerns so we can work together.
CH: Stop. Just stop. Life is hectic, and I get caught up in it, too, but just stop, turn off the TV and the technology and just talk with your children. Let them know they are loved. And, really listen to what they say. Ask questions, too, so they know you are invested. And, don't hide your concern...ask straight-forward questions and don't try to dance around the hard ones. Also, pay attention to changes in things like eating habits, sleeping habits, and friend groups. Changes here can be telling signs of possible depression and/or anxiety.
DH: Now more than ever, I think the most important advice I can give parents concerning their student’s social and emotional well-being is to be “present!” Stay in the here and now each and every day. To be patient, caring and compassionate with yourself and with your student. My New Year’s message that I posted to social media was simply, “Be Kind!” That was it! Nothing more. We all can benefit from a bit more kindness. Just a little bit more, can make a person’s day. The one thing that I know for sure, we are not in control of everything. What we can control is how we greet each other, speak with and listen to each other. It makes a difference. The other piece of advice I would give is that if things seem a bit more than you can handle, reach out! As school counselors we are here to help, and when it is beyond our scope of professional responsibility, we have resources that we can direct you to.
DN: My advice to parents concerned about social/emotional well-being is to take time to sit down & communicate with your students. Listen to their concerns, needs, and struggles. Reflect on each day (what are you grateful for? What made today great? What could've made today better? etc.). Create routines that focus on the overall wellbeing of your student and your family.
Parents have lots of questions about career and college readiness. What can parents do to support career and college readiness at any age?
TG: Parents can support college and career readiness at any age by talking to their child about the reason they chose their career/college. They can support by attending college and cultural events hosted on college campuses, allowing students to explore their hobbies and interests through attending programs offered by local recreation centers or summer camps, encouraging reading about different careers and colleges. The more students are immersed in different exploration and enrichment activities will help them form ideas and opinions about their future college and career goals.
CH: Encourage your children to try new things. Figure out what they like and what they don't like (if they don't like it, try to help narrow down what part they don't like). Find connections between occupations. And, most importantly, emphasize transferrable skills like communication, writing, critical thinking, collaboration, etc. because the career they will have may not even exist yet!
DH: In the state of South Carolina, we are mandated to hold Individual graduation conferences (IGPs) each year with every student in grades 8-12. Attend your student’s IGP conference, bring your questions and concerns. Read and review the resources that are available on the School Counseling website, sent in email blasts, and newsletters. Do not be afraid to ask. If things are still not clear for you, there is always a lead school counselor or director you can reach out to. We are a team, and we are here to help.
DN: While college and career readiness looks different at the various levels of education, it can begin as early as elementary school. This support is inclusive of having students participate in College Colors Day, college tours, college fairs, college/university sponsored summer camps, test preparation sessions and enrollment in rigorous academic programs. Support for career readiness is inclusive of having students attend Career Day, job shadow community members, and take advantage of free online career assessments (they are available for all ages). Ultimately, parents should encourage the importance of college and career readiness as there are opportunities for success in each pathway!
If you could send a message to your fellow school counselors, what would you say?
TG: Know that YOU make a difference.
CH: I love you all so much, and I am so proud of you! You have been so strong in times of uncertainty. You have been leaders in your schools and your communities, and you have always put others first. Take stock in what you have accomplished because it is truly amazing. And, most of all...do not forget to take care of yourself. Our kids cannot do it without you, so make sure you are recharging your batteries.
DH: Things can get challenging, but School Counselors have what it takes! Believe in the power of a developmentally sound comprehensive approach to a school counseling program that addresses the specific needs of the students you serve. Do not be afraid to ask for feedback, that’s how you improve! Stay Positive! Believe in the power of Resilience. Resilience is not extraordinary. It is how we are built!
DN: We are the unsung heroes in many schools and communities! While I have always known our contributions to education are immeasurable, seeing the hard work and remarkable dedication at play during the pandemic reaffirmed it! It is a privilege to work with and network with each one of you. School Counselors truly can VIRTUALLY do anything! Remember to practice self-care and Happy National School Counseling Week.