As everything from restaurants to movie theaters to gyms start to reopen after the spread of COVID-19, school systems across the U.S. are still trying to navigate the best way to educate their students remotely. Virtual education has taken over since the spring and school systems are making plans to reopen their new school year’s effectively. Another challenge facing students and School systems is how to best provide virtual counseling services. And even as the ratio of students to school counseling professionals continues to see a decline nationally, many states are still well above the recommended average. This means that if serving the student body with counseling services was hard enough before, it’s set to get even harder through a virtual lens.
In late March, as states started closing their schools, parents, students, Educators, and school counselors alike all started scrambling for answers to this new challenge. And while schools have been dabbling with virtual counseling and teaching options for some time now, going exclusively virtual has brought too much change too fast.
Starting in August, some school systems will begin their 2020-2021 school year, which means they will have to nail down a plan for reopening. This includes social distancing, sports programs, school cafeterias, meal assistance, and counseling those who need it. And with a scarcity of school counselors in high schools and elementary schools in more rural regions, students are set to be met with unique challenges of their own.
In Arizona, a state that has the highest student-to-counselor ratio of 905-to-1, the education system was set to spend millions of dollars in bolstering its razor-thin roster of school counseling professionals. But as the coronavirus put a hold on the state’s economy and its efforts, securing the money has been less certain. Without this financial support, counseling efforts, such as mental health and student wellness, will see further complications.
This is an alarming notion, as teen suicide rates have jumped up by more than 50% in the last decade, according to the CDC. Issues with anxiety, depression, and emotional health have seen a sharp rise in today’s youth, and school counselors have traditionally been there to help students. Now, mixing in fewer or reallocated resources with transferring services virtually, things can look bleak for school counseling in the country.
Before the closures of schools nationwide, some counselors found themselves already alone on an island without additional counselors in their schools. And with anxiety and depression on the rise, wanting to help students in person is essentially impossible. One way some counselors are adjusting is through surveys via email, asking students to keep a journal and rank their state of mind for that day.
Daily check-ins and video conference options are also helping counselors and students adjust to the new normal. Counselors and educators who interact with students who are used to working with students in person are usually able to pick up on nonverbal cues that indicate something is bothering them either in class, amongst friends, or at home. That option has diminished as interactions have moved online.
Although many counselors are already having to answer so many different demands, as well as having to live their own lives, they should try to find time to call students individually or set up virtual video calls to check in on their wellbeing.
Tools like Zoom and Google Hangouts can be used to video call students and schedule conferences with parents. Counselors can use these resources to ask students to share their thoughts on how things are going at home and what they need help with moving into a new school year. Answers to these questions can help counselors determine which students might be in need of urgent support.
Connecting to students and checking in on them will help them feel supported, even if done virtually. While these unique and challenging times have made it harder on everyone, there are still ways that counselors can be effective in their approach to student wellbeing.
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