February 01, 2016

School counselors adapt to changing times

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
school counselor

As a school counselor, Brian Ross's duties shift throughout the day as rapidly as the weather in the northeast.

"In a 40-minute period, I might talk to a student about their SATs and college, and what courses they should take to prepare. That student can leave my room and then there's a girl there in tears because of a comment made about her on a social media site," said Ross, who works at the recently combined high schools of Corning and Painted Post in Steuben County.

school counselorAs the nation recognizes National School Counseling Week, Feb. 1-5, NYSUT takes a closer look at just what that job entails in today's rapidly changing world.

At Corning-Painted Post, the high school has six counselors. There is also a school psychologist who works primarily with special education students.

Through a program by the local union - Corning-Painted Post Teachers Association - Ross is a mentor to one of the new school counselors, sharing his experience and skills. Union president Leslie Varga sets up the mentoring meetings.

The school counselors are advocates, not disciplinarians, Ross explained. They are there to help students maneuver through problems - teaching them to advocate for themselves, helping them develop coping skills or guiding them toward the right college for them.

The counselors here run specialty groups for students who are up against a myriad challenges. Some of the teenagers are learning anger management; some seek the support of a group to deal with abuse.

The biggest change in the profession, Ross said, is dealing with the effect of technology on students. Cyber bullying, texting, sexting, or posting inappropriate photos or comments on social media can really mess with students.

"A lot of it trickles down to what students are dealing with in school," he said. The mascot of the rural Corning-Painted Post school is a hawk, and the school newsletter is called Tail Wind News where students write about the latest movies coming out, how to stay motivated in school, student charity projects and student awards.

The speed of the world has brought changes to the job as well. Sometimes parents will hear about something that just happened at school through a child's text and will call Ross, upset. But Ross hasn't even been told about the incident yet.

Keeping students in school is a high priority.

"It's a team approach," said Ross, who has been on the job for 22 years. Counselors help students with course selections, electives, trade programs and other options to keep school challenging and interesting. They work with teachers, deans, administrators and other health care professionals in the school.

"We do triage, if you will," he said. Ross and his colleagues also work with social services and outside agencies to help students with problems.

"Our school counselors actively engage with teachers and parents in helping students realize their abilities and talents," said NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale. "They focus on healthy and positive ways to enhance their personal, educational and career development. They help them set positive goals and work on social skills. Their work helps students remove barriers to learning."

Ross said that, when there is a problem between a student and teacher, counselors work with the teen to help them release their high emotion about a situation such as a test score, course requirement or classroom incident. They will review whether or not the student has met the expectations of the course and work on how communication can be improved.

"We guide them to a mature, responsible way to respond," said Ross, who has a master's degree in counseling education. As part of his job, he attends professional development programs through the State University of New York to learn about updates at the SUNY colleges in financial aid, admissions, academic programs, etc. OpInform is set up specifically for school counselors, and can be found at www.suny.edu/counselor/opinform.

School counselors are certified by the New York State Education Department.