Mental Health Mondays – School Counselors: All in for All Students!

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“School Counselors: All in for All Students!”
On Monday, Feb. 1, Lori Brooks, director of school counseling and Mental Health Services for the School District of Lee County; Allison Ferraro, coordinator of school counseling 9-12 for Collier County Public Schools; Stephen McFadden, coordinator of school counseling K-8 for Collier County Public Schools: and Mary Lynn Rodriguez, coordinator of school counseling Services School District of Lee County discuss the importance of school counselors during National School Counseling Week Feb. 1-5.


Role of School Counselors
Stephen: School counselors work with ALL students. Students come to school with a variety of problems, along with the normal tasks of development, which influence how students feel about themselves, how they behave and the way they act socially. These influences can affect learning. School counselors’ objective is to minimize and reduce the learning obstacles that students face. They try to promote success in three main areas:

  1. Academics
  2. Social-Emotional
  3. Career Development

Counselors strive to free students up from the many roadblocks to learning. To do so, they fit in to three primary roles.

  1. Counselor
  2. Consultant
  3. Teacher/Facilitator

Counselors need to be flexible and adapt to changes and be able to shift to a proactive or reactive role.


Skills of School Counselors
Mary Lynn: Skills of a school counselor:

  1. Leadership
  2. Collaboration
  3. Advocacy
  4. Systemic Change

Skills shine by recognizing and showcasing diversity, developing community partnerships, assisting during difficult situations. Often counselors find themselves as a liaison and support between home and school, maintaining strong home/school connections. School counselors lead staff trainings, with many areas of expertise, including student engagement, positive discipline, peer mentoring programs, student leaders and academic and social interventions for low-performing students.


History of School Counselors
Lori: School Guidance role started in 1890 with the social reform movement for child labor and urban settings. The profession was put on the map with the Space Race. The field was called guidance counselors because major focus was career planning with students. The profession really evolved to school counselors. Now we must have a master’s degree in school counselors and be certified by the department of education. We are required to engage in continuing education. Required to uphold ethical and professional standards.


American School Counselor Association Model
Allison: American School Counselor Association (ASCA) model. It guides school counselors in the development of school counseling systems that should be based on data-informed decisions to benefit all students on a developmentally appropriate level. It helps close achievement gaps, resulting in improved student achievement and improves attendance and discipline. According to the ASCA model 80% of a counselor’s time should be spent in direct and indirect service of students. Direct services include academic advisement, short term individual or group counseling and referrals for long-term support. Indirect services include collaboration with parents and teachers, participating in IEP team meeting, helping advocate for students. Counselors should spend no more than 20% of time in program planning or school support duties such as testing, lunchroom or bus monitoring, assisting with discipline issues. We try very hard not to blur the lines between our role as a counselor and a disciplinarian.
ASCA also recommends 250 students per school counselor.


K-8 Counseling: Mary Lynn and Stephen

  • Core Curriculum: Evaluate school and student data and outcomes to see where we can better serve our students. Core Curriculum development could be Social-Emotional Learning and bullying prevention or conflict resolution to address our student body that is proactive and preventative in nature.
  • Individual Student Planning: Goal setting and planning for student’s future. Career exploration and planning. Interest assessments. You can work on self-control goal setting. Address the academic needs with data planners.
  • Response Services: Helping process to teach competencies to address the various things that come up with individual counseling. Small group settings to address an issue like study skills or social skills. We provide crisis response services, such as the death of a teacher or student to provide coping mechanisms to get through that moment. Could be a threat assessment.
  • Indirect Services: Consultation with teachers, parents and administration to increase their effectiveness in supporting students and create environments and culture to help students thrive. Parents may have question about parenting, counselors can help with strategies. Referrals: not everything can be handled by a counselor. We may need to refer student out. We can also refer to our school psychologists or other in-school support.


9-12 Counseling: Allison and Lori

  • Core Curriculum: Things all students need be aware of and learn. 9th Grade: goal setting and study skills and understanding GPA. Also, foundation of graduation requirements. 10th grade: National testing. 11th grade: College mindset or other options. Grade 12: College applications, scholarships and financial aid. In high school, students are making decisions and determine the rest of their lives. We view our parents as partners in that process. We aim to provide students and parents as much information as we can to make good choices in a comprehensive way. Mental Health Curriculum has been mandated by the state of Florida in grades 6-12.
  • Individual Student Planning: We help students evaluate their abilities, interest and skills to develop personal goals to help them. We don’t give advice. We help our students find their way through something. A lot is questioning them so they identify their goals and the best pathway. We talk through academic pieces to choose classes that will help gauge their interests and career choices and how to get there.
  • Response Services: This is where we respond to the needs of the students who are reaching out for help. We help with coping skills. As ages increase, problems seem to increase as well. Could be as serious as abuse and neglect, or could be loss of pet or family member. As we moved into COVID-19 and the pandemic, our responsive services have grown with anxiety and stress. Children in need of responsive services are going to be the priority as those needs bubble up.
  • Indirect Services: Collaborate to connect families to services that are beyond our scope. Services can be within and outside of the school. We consult, which can be parent-teacher meetings or we can be brought in for IEP team meetings, discipline meetings. We can consult with outside agencies.




Q: You mention the preferred ratio is 250 students to 1 counselor. What is the current ratio in Lee and Collier Counties?
A: Allison: In Collier County, it’s above 250. That’s more of a national norm, and I don’t know of many states that get to that. It depends on grade level. At elementary schools, there may only be one counselor, so they may have 1 to 700. In middle school and high school, those ratios get a little bit smaller.
Lori: In Lee County, we also have various levels of staffing ratios in elementary, middle and high. We run an average across K-12 of about 1 to 485 across the board. In our elementary schools you could have one counselor or two.

Q: How have school counselors adjusted to helping students during virtual learning?
A: Stephen: As we’ve mentioned, we are able to adapt. This was a big change for everyone. There was no manual for school counselors. We built it as we flew. The biggest challenge to virtual learning was confidentiality. We had to be careful that when counselor was on a virtual call that there was nobody else listening to that student. The other big challenge was crisis. If a student was at home and threatening to harm themselves, how did we assess that virtually? Guidelines had to be established and protocols put in place.
Lori: In Lee County when we moved to virtual learning, we had to pivot very quickly. Our chief academic officer pulled together academic services but also student services to include mental health, school counselors and others. We remove barriers to learning so students can learn. We had one week planning time to go virtual. We asked, how are we supporting the learning? We had to consider confidentiality and review with our students the limits of confidentiality and when we do need to disclose things. The other part of protocol is identifying if there is a parent or caregiver at home. We needed to make sure someone was there if there was a crisis. We also had to establish protocols for our teachers for what happens when they needed support for struggling students during a zoom or virtual class. We have students who are completely virtual, some who are in classrooms with classmates on zoom and others who are fully in class. We had to deal with protocols for all of those settings. We had to be very strategic. While the districts were determining what to do, our national and state associations for school counselors were developing tools for us to use as well.

Q: I’m curious, do you guys get vacation on a school calendar basis?
A: Allison: In Collier County, school counselors are on an instructional calendar. We have the exact same contract that the teachers have. We usually get the same days off that teachers do. Mary Lynn: Depending on the level, we do have an extended contract that goes 205 days, an additional week out for middle school and high school counselors. The elementary school counselors are on the same schedule as the teachers.

Q: What is the biggest challenge you are seeing with our students? How can the community at large help?
A: Allison: I think normalizing mental health concerns. We have not had candid conversations about mental health. I think anything the community can do to normalize conversations about mental health and reducing the stigma about mental health concerns would definitely be a help for our students and our community at large.