Celebrating National School Counseling Week
Getting through high school – or preparing to leave it after senior year– is not something a GPS can help with. This is a place where students need the personal, up-close knowledge and skills of a school counselor to show the way.
They need a stationmaster.
Any student who has tried to find his or her way through the maze of college or career opportunities – trying to match money, needs and skills with a place that has the right programs — knows what a school counselor can offer.
Students who have floundered with goals or academics during their time in high school or who are buffeted by social issues or emotional hurdles, often head to the school counselor’s office.
It is here where they are guided through the many stops and changes that have to be made during school. Often, school requirements change; finances changes; and family situations change along the route.
“I see family dynamics that have changed, more grandmothers raising children’s children; more single moms,” said Rosemarie Thompson, who has worked 19 years as a school counselor in the Bronx. “Coping mechanisms have changed.”
Thompson reflected on the job duties of school counselors and the nature of school, community and family for National School Counseling Week.
This year, the American School Counselor Association chose the theme “School Counseling: Helping Students Realize Their Potential.”
VIDEO: Celebrating School Counseling Week
Many school counselors make their presence known to students by speaking in front of their classrooms and putting a face to their role.
“I go into classrooms a lot to discuss goals, preparing for life after high school and about college expectations,” said Thompson. “I do a lot of college and career readiness.”
But there’s more. Much more. Thompson said that, with the last recession and the many layoffs that resulted, she has seen families’ finances shift precariously. Older students are often assigned more responsibilities for their younger siblings as mom and dad find work, or work longer hours.
“These are working people who are on the poverty line, but they’re living in shelters and temporary housing,” said Thompson, who speaks softly but firmly.
This affects students in all aspects of their lives. Teens often do not know how to express feelings, she said, and they are more likely to get into fights or have problems if the family life is chaotic.
School counselors listen for the dial tone, ready to help students learn how to express themselves.
Thompson works on the Roosevelt Educational Campus, where she said a community of “seasoned educators help build continuity and trust” for students. Counselors work with teachers and also with school social workers, to whom students can be referred for deeper problems and mental health needs.
She is one of two school counselors for 420 students.
NYSUT supports a proposed amendment to the regulations of the state Commissioner of Education would require a cap of 250 students for each school counselor.
“I really want to thank NYSUT for taking the lead on this. Counselors throughout the state and country really want a cap,” she said. Counseling jobs have become more comprehensive than providing college and career guidance.
Thompson is also engaged with larger communities in her profession. Currently, she is president of the New York State School Counselor Association. The organization holds an annual professional development conference to keep counselors thriving and learning new best practices.
She is also union chapter leader for all of the United Federation of Teachers 3,000-plus school counselors. In this role, she deals with contractual information, grievances, discipline issues and advocacy.
While all of this commitment rapidly spells B-U-S-Y, Thompson makes time to serve on NYSUT’s Health Care Professionals Council, where she meets with other school and hospital health care professionals to network, advocate, share concerns and put forth proposed bills regarding health care.
On the school campus where she spends her days from that first morning buzzer to the last, she sometimes invites in guest speakers or hosts panels for career day to guide and inspire students. These range from a school principal to a policeman to a doctor or nurse.
The college-bound get a head start by being able to take college classes right on the high school campus through Bronx Community College. Thompson also helps shepherd students on “many, many trips to different colleges” to open their worldview.
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