Every September, as fall is ushered in, it signals a change from long summer days to the start of routines, school, and all things sports. Yet this year, many schools and parents find themselves starting the school year with virtual or hybrid learning, without a consistent routine, and many sports and activities on hold, leaving many school staff and educators working around the clock to navigate this new environment.
This is especially true for guidance counselors. While many counselors had the benefit before the pandemic of meeting with a student or family in person to navigate next steps, challenges, or offer resources, many now find themselves not able to connect as usual.
And yet, it is important to remember just how uniquely positioned guidance counselors are to support students in their schools and communities.
With many teachers not being in the classroom or seeing students consistently, guidance counselors can come alongside them and be an additional set of eyes and ears. Proactively reaching out to teachers to see how students are doing and what needs are arising can be a great help, as students may be exhibiting behavior changes, unexplained absences, and other challenges, which is where a guidance counselor can step in.
Knowing the warning signs of trauma, abuse, and exploitation can be critical to identifying a student at-risk or in need of help. Reviewing your school protocol and state mandated reporting can be key to activating a necessary response.
Guidance counselors often know the students that have faced barriers and challenges before. But in these times, there may also be new students that have needs emerging as home environments are drastically changing. Informing students about what supports are available is important, as they may not know who they can talk to without being on their school campus.
Many students are feeling lonely and isolated, leaving them vulnerable to online predators looking to exploit these vulnerabilities. Guidance counselors can equip them with the knowledge they need about online safety and the dangers they may not know about.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline reported in the months of May and June that half of the visitors to the online hotline were from minors. Guidance counselors can educate students and provide resources, such as hotline numbers and materials, to help keep students safe.
Consider partnering with student wellness centers or school nurses for webinars or chats where students can learn and ask questions. Creating a safe environment where difficult and sensitive topics can be discussed can make all the difference for a student.
Many families are facing obstacles they have never encountered or are experiencing increased and compounding challenges, such as job loss, housing and food shortages, or even sick family members. As tensions rise in homes, connecting students and families to community resources they may be unaware of is a key way guidance counselors can engage and offer support. Often, opportunities to help are available but struggle to connect with those in need.
One example is foster youth, who were a vulnerable population before the crisis and continue to be. There are many organizations in communities that have created resources for foster care families, such as bags with outdoor activities, graduation boxes, and more. Guidance counselors can learn what resources there are in the community and serve as a connector, bridging the gap so that resources don’t go unutilized.
Guidance counselors can also serve as an advocate to administrators and help increase understanding of what students are facing at home, in the classroom, and the vulnerabilities that can put students at an increased risk. These topics may include rules and permissions around school devices and accessing the Internet at home, virtual library settings, devices equipped with cameras and microphones, and chat functionalities on school software and programs. It may also include awareness of community offerings and potential partnerships that can easily fill gaps, such as mentoring programs available virtually.
During this time, with school looking anything but normal, students may find themselves feeling hopeless, questioning college because it looks different now, doubting vocational opportunities at a time when the job market seems daunting, and at an overall loss to see hope for the future.
But guidance counselors have a unique opportunity to help students stay focused, bring hope, and help them navigate what seems hopeless. Guidance counselors are staying aware of students and families’ needs and challenges. They can be a beacon of hope and the link that students and families need this school year.
Never underestimate how seemingly small or simple efforts can have a large impact.