Highly trained and uniquely skilled, school counselors are often the first – and sometimes the only – mental health professionals a young student sees. They’re an essential piece of the American educational system — a piece that deserves support and funding.
That’s the message a panel of counselors gave on Capitol Hill last week at a briefing for congressional staff that was organized by the American Counseling Association. Four school counseling professionals, Lynn Linde, Rebecca Dedmond, Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy and Jasmine Marie McLeod, spoke and answered questions during the hourlong briefing on Feb. 23.
“Please ask us to the table. Please ask us what works. … Call on us. Ask us what we can do,” Dedmond said to the room of congressional staffers. “We’re that cog in the wheel of a school.”
The panel asked for support of initiatives that involve funding for public school counselors, especially those initiatives that deal with staffing levels or professional development.
Linde, who chaired ACA’s School Counseling Task Force last year, offered an open invitation to set up visits for any member of Congress who would like to shadow a school counselor or drop in to see these counselors at work.
School counselors are “trained, passionate about what they’re doing and want to be there with the kids,” Linde said. “They never stop. They never give up.”
Students are “not available for learning” when they face nonacademic challenges such as abuse or turmoil at home, trouble with anger management, depression, self-injury or other mental health issues, explained Linde, a past president of ACA.
Because school counselors are highly trained to help with all of those issues — and much more — they’re essential for a school to thrive, added Holcomb-McCoy. Simply put, school counselors are critical in identifying and advocating for kids who need help. Early intervention is key, and “counselors are on the front lines,” she said.
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA), a division of ACA, recommends a ratio of 250 students for every one school counselor. Very few states average anywhere close to this number, and the disparity is often worse in low-income and needier schools, noted McLeod and Holcomb-McCoy.
Adding even one counselor to a school staff is equivalent to decreasing class sizes or other beneficial changes made by budget funding, noted McLeod.
“School counselors are frequently the first mental health professional a child sees. In some cases, they’re the only one,” said Linde. “Counselors often see the potential in students that students don’t see in themselves.”
In addition, school counselors often do preventative work in classrooms and provide a link between families and school administration, school staff and the community, Holcomb-McCoy said. They also help students adjust to change and prepare for transitions, whether from grade level to grade level or school to career, said Dedmond.
“[School counselors] create a culture of learning [and] help students to find their fit — where they are today and what their future might be,” Dedmond said.
Last week’s briefing was organized to call attention to the need for congressional support of school counselors in general but also, more specifically, to push for backing of the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program (ESSCP) and reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
ESSCP is a nearly $50 million request in the 2016 federal budget that would fund grants to hire and support public school counselors, psychologists, child and adolescent psychiatrists and social workers.
ESEA was first signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson and revived in 2002 as the No Child Left Behind Act. A revised version of the initiative, tentatively titled the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015, has been released for public comment but has not yet been introduced to Congress.
Congressional staff members who attended last week’s briefing were given handouts detailing ACA’s
position on these two initiatives, as well as links for more information and data. ACA’s infographic on the changing role of school counselors was also distributed.
ACA CEO Richard Yep and Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan attended the briefing, held at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington.
ASCA was also on Capitol Hill earlier this year, drawing attention to the work of school counselors as first lady Michelle Obama honored the school counselor of the year, Cory Notestine, a high school counselor in Colorado.
School counselor briefing panelists:
- Lynn Linde*, Ed.D., director of clinical experiences at the school counseling program at Loyola University Maryland
- Rebecca Dedmond*, Ph.D., licensed professional counselor and assistant professor of counseling in the graduate school of education and human development at George Washington University
- Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, Ph.D., professor and vice provost of faculty affairs and professor of counseling and human development at the school of education at Johns Hopkins University
- Jasmine Marie McLeod*, M.Ed., national certified counselor, licensed clinical professional counselor and instructional systems specialist in school counseling and school psychology at the Department of Defense Education Activity
* Denotes American Counseling Association member
For more information and updates on ACA’s government affairs initiatives, see counseling.org/government-affairs
Bethany Bray is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org