Each year I am either pleasantly surprised or annoyed by the current status of professional school counselors in America. When I wrote my first blog post regarding the status of the school counselor, it was following the announcement that Philadelphia was letting go of all the district’s school counselors. By the way, this occurred just after the 2014 ASCA Conference (what the heck!!). Following their layoff, many efforts have been made to reinstate counselors back in Philly, but to be honest, I have heard that it has been a slow process. So, what is the big deal about hiring school counselors in schools anyway?
The Big Deal About Hiring School Counselors
Recently, an article was released about the benefits of employing school counselors in schools. One selling point, from the article, was the fact that hiring more school counselors saved Colorado taxpayers more than $319 million dollars between 2010 and 2015. How was this even possible? Simply by keeping students from dropping out prevents the state from paying for a lifetime of incarceration, healthcare, and welfare payments. Apparently, students who stay in school are more successful and less likely to depend on state assistance (what a concept!). According to the NYU Counseling Staff, school counselors create positive learning environments that encourage students’ academic, career, and social growth. Check out this great info graphic from NYU regarding the advantages of hiring more school counselors. Also, if you want to read more about the advantages of hiring more counselors, check out this article.
Why School Districts Fail to Hire School Counselors
Then, there is the opposite story. In your bigger districts, school counselors are more of a luxury rather than the norm. School districts like, New City, Chicago, Miami, and Houston, prefer to hire school officers rather than school counselors.
Okay, here is my disclaimer. This section is not to bash the school resource officer. Schools need them and I have enjoyed working with them over the years. My intent here is to point out the inequity in this hiring practice and to express my opinion. Now you may continue…
Although the American School Counselor Association recommends one school counselor per every 250 students, this is rarely taken into consideration by the majority of school districts.
So, lets put it in perspective…Houston has one school counselor for every 1,175 students. What does this mean? A student is more likely to come across a school resource officer in the hall rather than a school counselor!! Usually this is not an issue, but if you have been watching the news you know that there can be negative interactions between a SRO and a student. Unfortunately only 12
|How most SROs are viewed
states require officers to receive special training when working with students and the majority of states do not require any training. In fact, in a joint statement from ASCA, NASRO, NASP, SSWAA, NAESP, and NASSP, all school resource officers should have the required training to work with youth in the US. The ACLU agrees that adding a student support element is truly the best way to prevent school incidents.
Check out the video regarding school resource officers and school counselors. This is a great informational video to share!!
Currently, there are over 19,000 SROs in our nation’s schools. Although the majority of encounters between students and SROs are benign, there are stories of violent encounters which have exploded on the nightly news. Out of those encounters, it was discovered that those officers lacked the required training to work with students. In fact, Atlantic Magazine reported that school resource officers spend less than 1 percent of their training on youth issues. However, trained officers know their boundaries and that they should not become involved in administering school discipline (dress code, classroom management, etc.).
Officer Jason Schlottman, a resource officer at Cedar Crest High School in Pennsylvania, believes that the proper training to work with youth is very important. Officer Schlottman received training from the National Association of School Resource Officers or NACRO which teaches the officer to serve in many capacities (teacher, counselor, mediator, or mentor). Schlottman feels that his role is not as a disciplinarian, but his main purpose is to build relationships with students. The officers are trained in de-escalation strategies, like diversion techniques, and they are trained to recognize students with a disability. The problem is that many school districts are unaware of the training or cannot afford to send their officers (a familiar tale). So, what can a school counselor do?
Working With Your SRO
So, we know that SROs are not going anywhere and the question becomes “what do we do?” My suggestion is to build a connection and relationship with your resource officer. I wanted to give some suggestions on how you can do this.
Another disclaimer…some of you may feel comfortable doing this and others of you may not. These are only suggestions.
1. Educate yourself about the role of the SRO in your district. It is always a good idea to know what your SRO can and cannot do with students. We often assume everything they do is okay and those practices may or may not be part of your district’s protocol. Believe me, this is always good to know. If you need more information, consider attending a webinar on August 25th.
The Role of the School Resource Officer in Schools Webinar – August 25th
2. Suggest to your administrator that your SRO take the Basic SRO course to become more skilled in working with youth (especially if you have concerns). Want to do something outlandish…offer for your department to pay for the training by starting a scholarship or hosting a fundraiser (I know this may not be easy to do and would require a lot of buy in from your department).
3. Consider presenting at a future NASRO Conference to educate SROs on how they can work with their school counselor or present on other topics that may help build relationships between the school counselor and the school resource officer.
4. Consider taking a Youth Mental Health First Aid course with your SRO.
What is Mental Health First Aid?
Just as CPR training helps laypersons with no clinical training save lives, Mental Health First Aid helps laypersons assist someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis (i.e. suicide). The program includes an eight hour interactive session that introduces participants to risk factors, warning signs of mental health problems, understanding of their impact, and overview of mental health treatments. Youth Mental Health First Aid is designed to work with adolescents between the ages of 12-18 and introduces the participants to the unique risks and warning signs of those who work with adolescents. In addition, the course helps build understanding of the importance of early intervention and teaches participants how to work with youth experiencing a mental health crisis.
5. Help your SRO understand the law about how to appropriately access student records for his or her protection. Under the law, the school must control all access to who views student records. I have attached to law so that you can educate yourself on what local and school law officers can view and use when it comes to student records.
6. Ask your SRO to serve on your student support team and prevention programming. Including your SRO on your team can be quite beneficial!
7. Ask your SRO to come to your counseling meetings to share information on topics that he or she knows are happening in the school community (drugs, gangs, youth violence trends, etc.). You can learn a lot from your SRO.
The sad truth is that promoting school counseling in schools will never end. I hope you have gained a little insight from this post and, as always, I would love to hear about the efforts you have made to promote yourself as a school counselor.