FAIRMONT — Some of the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic will have their moment in the spotlight next week as U.S. public schools celebrate National School Counseling week Feb. 1-5.
In spite of the challenges brought on by the pandemic, Marion County school counselors work with students, families, communities and school staff to address academic, career and social and emotional development needs for all students in grades PreK-12. The week highlights the impact school counselors can have in helping students achieve school success and plan for a career.
“There’s really been a great outpouring to assist in making connections with students and families in the pandemic in our statewide school system,” said Randy Farley, marion County School Superintendent.
Farley said counselors continue to be available during the pandemic through conference calls and different communication tools. Farley said there are difficulties making those connections given all students might not have access to broadband.
“Counselors sometimes have to use the phone or make other arrangements for someone to come in or meet them face to face if necessary and that’s another reason that’s really important for getting kids back into school,” he said.
Sherry Copley, curriculum coordinator for Marion County Schools, said the week allows parents and educators a chance to pause and appreciate the counselors but at the same time have them make a push to make sure all the resources all they have are being utilized.
She said many counselors are trying to juggle in-person students and virtual students. A lot of counselors have used their budget to create a mental health space.
“It’s just kind of a time out, chill out kind of place for the kids that are in person to come in if they need a counselor,” she said.
Some counselors are working on online ways for distance students to take advantage of that too. The effort is to keep kids emotionally healthy during the pandemic.
There is a new state resource called ReClaim West Virginia that has resources for supporting emotional and mental health. High schools are especially worried that because of the pandemic kids are not getting enough contact as staff would like. Studies show there has been a drop in the number of college financial aid applications being completed. Usually, it’s high school counselors who help seniors fill out the FAFSA so they see if they are eligible for any type of aid that can help pay for college or technical school after high school.
Copley said school counselors are leaders in their schools that serve as a connection between students, families, teachers and communities.
“They’re such an important position for just reaching out and connecting all those parts of a student’s life,” she said.
Not only do counselors help with mental health, but because they work in the school system they’re responsible for students’ academic well-being.
“The counselor really has their hands in everything in the school system,” said Copley.
Without counselors, Copley said, there would be such a huge gap in putting all these aspects of students’ lives together.
Before COVID-19 the counselors had monthly meetings so they could share resources with each other. Copley also said counselors are encouraged to attend Family Resource Network meetings. Different community agencies come together once a month for lunch and Copley said it’s a great opportunity for counselors to connect with the community.
“We’re still connecting and actually connecting further because our whole state does a statewide counselor meeting once a month and our counselors attend that, and then we also get together as a county just to debrief what we’ve learned from all the different meetings we’re attending,” she said.