In my column last month, I noted that “back to school” was going to be anything but the normal or traditional fall experience that many of us grew up knowing. This fall has started off in an eerily different way. And with the concern over the potential impact of the COVID-19 variants, who can tell what the next few months will bring?
Frankly, I am sorry, saddened and concerned about what the impact will be on students, families, educators and administrators as we head into September. Rates of students who act out, take undue risks, indulge in drug and alcohol use, and show signs of negative behavior are likely to increase. However, I am profoundly appreciative of the work of professional school counselors at the K-12 level and of those in college counseling centers at institutions of higher education. Those of you who work in these settings will respond to some very serious concerns manifested by what our world has experienced over the past 18 months.
Teachers, parents, administrators and those who work in higher education settings must be made aware of the training and expertise of professional school counselors. Professional counselors in educational settings perform outstanding advocacy on behalf of their students. Now I am asking you to step up and advocate for your profession. We need more counselors to spread the good news about your training, your expertise, your ability to solve problems and your dedication to helping all of our nation’s students in a respectful and ethically appropriate manner.
I urge you to speak up. If you work in a K-12 setting, make sure you are on the agenda to address parents, teachers and students whenever possible. At the college level, make sure that your success is reported regularly to administrators and boards of trustees. The American Counseling Association will work as hard as it can to influence state and federal programs and funding that support the hiring and training of professional counselors. It is up to all of you at the local, district or campus levels to also ensure that the funding to run your programs is made available and declared a priority.
With all that we will see students experiencing on K-12 and college campuses this fall, it is clear that mental health professionals working in school settings will be in high demand. Let the staff and leaders at ACA know what you need. I would also encourage you to visit the ACA website to see the resources, continuing education and training opportunities that might be of benefit in the challenging work you face. For example, ACA recently introduced an entirely new learning management system, accessible via counseling.org, that lists an incredible number of continuing education opportunities designed to help counseling practitioners.
When I say that I hope this will be ACA’s best year ever, I’m not referring to generating the most revenue or simply growing our various product lines. I am talking about you! I want ACA to be the professional partner you deserve, supporting you in the crucial work you do each and every day. Use the contact information included at the end of my column every month to let me know what your professional membership organization can do for you. We now have more than 55,000 members, and our growth must mean something. To me, it means that professional counselors, counselor educators and graduate students see value and want to engage in what ACA is doing.