The first line of mental health defense in Missouri’s K-12 schools is navigating added challenges during the pandemic, just like the rest of the school community. Missouri’s school counselors have been working to help students and staff deal with extra stress and anxiety.
“It’s been an extremely trying now going on two years – no exception and no difference to any other educator. School counselors have really struggled because, I think, of the depth and breadth of the concerns that people have. School counselors are responsible for 100% of the students in their school but they are also responsive to the needs of parents, of staff, of administration,” says Dr. Shari Sevier, the Director of Advocacy with the Missouri School Counselor Association. “We have seen a huge need on the part of our staff members over the last year. Personally, I’ve been asked to do more presentations to staff on staff wellness than I’ve had to do on student wellness. I think that’s very telling and it hasn’t stopped.”
Sevier tells Missourinet many school counselors have been serving students while also balancing extra duties outside their expertise, like supervising an after-school activity and clerical work.
“The main thing I think that they need is to be able to work their program, and that’s really critical. So many people believe that a school counselor is a position. It is not. School Counseling is a program,” Sevier tells Missourinet. “And I think a lot of people don’t know that. I think they still think back to the old quote unquote guidance counselor, but the training has changed dramatically and the requirements have changed dramatically.”
She says not being able to work their school counseling program means they are not meeting the needs of students.
“We’re seeing higher levels of anxiety. We’re seeing kids who are struggling academically,” she says. “Virtual education is fantastic but it’s not for everyone. When you cannot connect with a student, that becomes really worrisome because you don’t know if it’s social, is it emotional? Is it something that the family needs that we can help with? Are they learning?”
The program includes social-emotional, academic and career development, grade transitioning, counseling and crisis response, among other things.
“I used to always say to school counselors, ‘If you think this is a good gig, you aren’t working hard enough.’ I think most school counselors would agree with that. From the time I would get out of the car, I would have kids following me to my office. I was on call 24/7. And what came into my office every day, were things that most people would never want to have, would never want to hear, would never want to have to deal with. But that’s the choice that we make. And that’s the devotion and the commitment we have to our students. And so, when we’re not able to do that, it’s disappointing, disrespectful. And it’s demoralizing because we can’t appropriately serve our kids and that’s why we’re hired to serve 100% of our students,” says Sevier.
Sevier wants the educational community to prioritize letting school professionals work the program they were trained to do and not burden them with extra duties outside of their expertise.
She says Missouri has about 1,600 K-12 public and private school counselors.
The association has received preliminary results from a survey it has sent out to its 1,300 members. The question was: How do you feel this school year has begun, compared to last year?
36% said “Better”
25% said “Worse”
32% said “About the same”
A couple comments from the outlier responses: Teachers and staff seem much more stressed. Another said s/he was busier than last year.
To hear the Show Me Today interview with Dr. Shari Sevier, click below.
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