Q: I teach in a district making budget cuts. We are trying to keep our middle school guidance counselor. She is really good, but never toots her own horn. Our school has 550 students! Can you help us make a case for her?
A: With that student-to-counselor ratio, members of your district should be doing everything they can to keep her happy. One counselor for every 250 students is the recommended ratio.
First, make sure everyone knows exactly what your school counselor does. As a teacher, you know she's critical, but too many folks have an outdated notion of the role.
"Today's counselors offer much more than the 'guidance' of (our) grandmothers' day. They provide a broad range of services and skills," says Darcie Jones, Program Assistant for Counseling at Oregon's Salem-Keizer Public Schools.
In response to burgeoning student needs, the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) redefined the profession in 2004. ASCA publishes standards that describe the many facets of a licensed professional school counselor. There are national and state standards, too. (Go to schoolcounselor.org and your State Education Department website.)
"A licensed professional school counselor is a skilled advocate uniquely trained to understand the social, emotional, interpersonal, academic and career skills necessary for kids to stay engaged in school," says Jones. "As community resources dwindle, the counselor often functions as the architect of structural supports a student needs to succeed."
A school counselor is a collaborative school team member, says Jones: "A big-picture thinker who can partner with the entire school staff, parents and outside resources to address issues that may affect student outcomes. As instruction becomes more data-driven, school counselors help collect and interpret data to make sure students aren't falling through the cracks."
Middle school counselors have an especially critical role as students transition from childhood to adolescence, says Jones: "They teach coping strategies and ways to understand oneself, navigate peer relationships and develop effective social skills. They provide academic support such as goal-setting, decision-making and teach organizational, study and test-taking skills.
"They provide responsive supports such as individual and small group counseling, referrals to remediation to make up for lost learning, and individual, family and school crisis intervention."
Research shows that comprehensive counseling programs boost student success. Students at schools with such programs do better on standardized tests and are more likely to go on to higher education.
Studies also show that students who feel valued and safe in their school -- a key goal of a comprehensive school-counseling program -- are more likely to perform well in all academic areas.
"Because they have a broad perspective, many school counselors have an important impact on maintaining a positive school climate," notes Jones.
With more children slipping into poverty each year, Jones says that "school counselors are more involved than ever in garnering basic resources children and families need such as food, clothing, dental and medical care and adequate shelter."
But perhaps the best way to keep your school counselor is to have the budget cutters shadow her for a day. While she attends to confidential matters, they can sit in the hallway and catch their breath!
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)