Colleen Quinn: The importance of school counselors

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April is National Counseling Awareness Month and as a school counselor in the Steamboat Springs School District, I wanted to share some information with the community about who school counselors are, what we do and how effective we are based upon research and data. I also wanted to relay the passion we possess for the kids in our school district and the excitement we have for the future of our world because of the positive things we see every day here in Steamboat Springs.

Professional school counselors are licensed educators with a minimum of a master’s degree in counseling making us qualified to address students’ academic, personal/social and career development needs. Our work supports student success in these domains: improvement of skills, reduction of stress and improvement in mental health functioning. School counselors provide culturally competent services to students, parents/guardians, school staff and the community in the following areas:

■ School guidance curriculum, which includes structured lessons delivered in the classroom.

■ Individual student planning, in which school counselors coordinate activities designed to help students establish personal goals and develop future plans.

■ Response services, which consist of prevention and intervention to meet students’ immediate needs. Response services include individual or group counseling; consultation with parents, teachers and other educators; peer helping; and intervention and advocacy at the systemic level.

■ System support, which consists of maintaining and enhancing the school counseling program, including personal and professional development and program management.

A recent study indicated that students who participated in interventions improved almost one-third of a standard deviation more than their peers who did not receive the interventions. In other words, school counseling interventions have a larger effect than aspirin for preventing heart attacks and an equivalent effect to sertraline (Zoloft) compared to a placebo for treating major depressive disorder. Elementary school students do better on national tests of academic knowledge and on state tests of academic achievement when there is a comprehensive developmental school counseling program in their school. High school students in schools with comprehensive school counseling programs are more academically successful, as measured by GPA. Elementary and middle school students who participate in school counseling curriculum and group interventions that focus on cognitive, social and self-management skills have consistently shown significantly stronger math and reading scores on state tests. Group counseling interventions for students at risk of failing have been found to effectively support involvement in student achievement. Just as teachers are evaluated based on performance, school counselors soon will be evaluated based on student achievement, as well. And we are more than ready to face the challenge. Teachers long have known the benefits of having a low counselor-to-student ratio, as school counseling decreases classroom disturbances by supporting teachers in the classroom and enabling teachers to provide quality instruction. Students in schools that provide counseling services indicated that their classes were less likely to be interrupted by other students and that their peers behaved better in school.

Yet, if you believe what you see in the media, you might think that bullying is an epidemic and on the rise (not true), that adolescents are committing crimes in droves and becoming pregnant. What is overlooked is that the majority of students do not smoke, drink, engage in sex or take drugs. There are many kids who are healthy and well-equipped with coping mechanisms and support. The kids in the Steamboat district are amazing: eager, enthusiastic, full of life, curious, adventuresome and refreshing to see every day. They are brutally honest and have the best sense of humor. For many, it is a time of unlimited discovery and endless possibilities. But for some, it’s a time of anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide, self-harming and addictions. School counselors see the endless possibility for all students to achieve, and we come prepared every day to teach, listen, hear and counsel. Our success is measured by many indices, and the data is overwhelmingly positive for school counselors. And measurable success that is demonstrable is crucial for students success. But there are successes the data doesn’t measure: the notes from present and former students relaying the impact you had on their lives, the heartfelt “thank you” from a parent, the relief in a student who is better able to cope with school and life, the tears and joy shared in the office of a school counselor. These are not easy to measure but important just the same.

Celebrate National Counseling Awareness Month by knowing the eight full- and part-time school counselors employed in your district are available to you and your students throughout the school year.

Colleen Quinn is a counselor at Steamboat Springs Middle School.

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