The American Counseling Association’s Future School Counselor essay competition recognizes graduate counseling students with exceptional insight and understanding about the school counseling profession and the work of professional school counselors who interact with elementary, middle school or high school students.
Future School Counselor: Grand prize essay 2022
By Kristy Gerke of Spring Arbor University
School Counselors can Advocate for Themselves and Save Lives
A parent glances at her phone and reads the following message: “We are in lockdown. This is real Mom. Kids are getting killed” (E.C. Gerke, personal communication, November 30, 2021). This is something a parent never wants to read. It strikes terror into those involved and leaves a community grief stricken and looking to the school for answers. Invariably, if the perpetrator is a student, school counselors come under scrutiny and, at times, are outright blamed.
The blame game is often the result of parents and the community being unware of the role school counselors play within the school and the community at large. This is just one example of why it is crucial for school counselors to advocate for themselves, their programs, and their profession in order to affect social change for schools, families, and communities, especially in regard to mental health and trauma programs.
Advocacy in Action
One of the first steps to begin advocating for the profession is to develop a unified definition of a school counselor’s role. This is essential because the responsibilities of a school counselor can vary within a single school district. Parents, school board members and state legislators often assume that school counselors are responsible for academic testing and class scheduling when, in fact, they are managing those tasks in addition to trying to meet students’ mental health needs.
School counselors should develop a comprehensive advocacy plan to promote their roles and programs across all organizations that serve to potentially define, fund, or restrict the school counselor’s role. In this particular case, school counselors can lobby for funding to implement mental health programs, and trauma assessments and interventions. In addition, school counselors can promote their programs’ successes to those organizations by providing data that identifies student needs and evidence-based outcomes.
Finally, school counselors have the ability to develop advocacy action plans by joining professional organizations and attending conferences. This not only allows school counselors to learn best practices in student mental health and trauma response, but it also brings members together in order to advocate for the profession itself.
Advocacy Advances the Profession
By implementing advocacy methods, school counselors not only raise awareness of their roles within the district and community but also at the state board and government levels. This is critical to advancing the profession because it provides valuable information to support policies that increase funding and will allow for the hiring of more school counselors, which will lower student-to-school counselor ratios. Increased funding will also allow school counselors to implement mental health and trauma programs that have proven to be effective.
The increased visibility of school counselors and the promotion of their mental health and trauma programs garners publicity for the profession. This illustrates the value that school counselors bring to students, families, and the community. That value can translate into increased partnerships with community mental health programs as well as bring a greater appreciation of the school counselor’s role.
Kristy Gerke is an alumni of the University of Arizona and a graduate student at Spring Arbor University who is currently in her second year pursuing dual specializations in clinical mental health counseling and school counseling. Her professional background includes working for 20 years as a journalist before switching to education where she ran a middle school language arts mentoring program designed for students reading below grade level.
She resides in Oxford, Michigan with her husband, two teenage children and their three cats. Her vision as a school counselor is to support high school students in promoting a culture of openness while providing safe spaces for students struggling with anxiety, panic disorders, and post traumatic stress disorder.
Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.