The Role of the School Counselor Continues to Change

LINCOLN, Neb. -- In an age where we're seeing school shootings and kids bringing weapons to school, counselors say they are feeling the weight of responsibility now more than ever.

Kids at younger ages are experiencing behavior or mental health issues, forcing the role of the school counselor to change.

Susie Mahoney has been a school counselor for 24 years. She has spent the last 13 at Randolph Elementary in Lincoln. During her career she says she's seen her role change, taking on more especially at the elementary level.

"Lots have changed during that time and I would say now we have a much greater incidence of severe behaviors that we see at an earlier and earlier age. Emotions getting in the way of learning much more so than before," Mahoney said.

School counselors help to build skills in students in three main areas: academic skills, careers, and personal and social areas. It's the last group of skills that counselors say they are focusing on more these days in younger students.

Counselors say a number of things could contribute to kids developing mental health conditions early on. Mahoney says reasons include the divorce rate, poverty level, society, the prevalence of electronics, and the role media plays in the lives of kids.

Educators say one thing they are seeing younger kids battle these days is anxiety.

"The economic stresses that families are under really show up in kids. Kids worry when their parents are under stress. They're under stress. So we can't ignore the changes in the economy in the last several years. It's put a burden on the kids," Brenda Leggiadro, LPS Coordinator of Counselors and Social Workers said.

If a teacher, counselor, or other administrator sees a child having an outburst in class or seems withdrawn from learning, the solution could be as simple as changing that student's location in a classroom.

Leggiadro says many of the buildings in the district use a process called SKIP. SKIP is a way for building staff to look at a situation and say these are some observable behaviors we're noticing with a students.

Leggiadro adds that sometimes those behaviors show there is a difficulty with a medical condition or mental health condition.

Once the behaviors are observed, staff then decide what the next appropriate steps are.

A social worker, counselor, and psychologist can take on the problem by getting the family involved to address the concerns.

A solution to some problems may be as simple as moving the child's location at school or getting extra resources in the community.

Another challenge Susie Mahoney and other counselors face is the number of students they're responsible for. Mahoney has 450 students at Randolph.

The standard set by the American School Counselor Association is 250 students per counselor. However, Mahoney and other educators say the ratio is manageable and they do what they can with what they have.

"Being here for 13 years I know every student, I know most of their families. I'm someone who can be that consistent figure year to year and help make a difference."


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