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Comprehensive School Counseling: What Students Need For Academic, Social And Long-Term Success
Updated November 8, 2016 7:06 AM
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(UNDATED) - The following is an editorial by Tami Silverman. She is the president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute. She may be reached at iyi@iyi.org.

A sophomore struggling academically thrives after being guided to a drafting course available at his school. Fifth graders throughout a district learn the connection between school and work through an annual BizTown event. And 21st Century Scholars attend an after school seminar where they get hands-on training in the Scholar Success Program. These are examples of school counselors helping students thrive.

Yet many Indiana students are at a critical disadvantage--there is not enough counseling time to reach every student who needs it.

The Center for Education Statistics ranked Indiana 42nd in the nation for having one counselor for every 541 students in 2013. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a 250:1 student-to-counselor ratio. But Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) data shows that for every 619 students in public or charter school corporations, Indiana has just one licensed counselor.

This is not just a state-level problem.

In Lawrence County, IDOE data shows there's one licensed counselor for every 609 students, with 11 licensed counselors between the county's two public school corporations. North Lawrence Community Schools has a ratio of 717:1 and Mitchell Community Schools has a 419:1 ratio.

ASCA identifies three areas where counselors support student success: academic performance, college and career preparation and social/emotional development. Many schools report success with their academic counseling efforts, which can cover traditional counseling such as course selection or study skills, but the highest need comes with college and career preparation and social/emotional issues.

School counselors assist students with family issues, managing emotions, resolving conflict, and learning interpersonal skills. Counselors help students with bullying, drug abuse and mental health issues in an era when nearly one in five Indiana high schools students have seriously considered suicide -- tied for the third highest rate in a national survey.

Dr. Michele Moore, superintendent for the Metropolitan School District of Martinsville, says the number of students needing social/emotional support is rising and her counselors must prioritize those needs. Moore says counselors have seen more students dealing with parents who are incarcerated or addicted to heroin/opioids. Counselors are uniquely trained and qualified to help students cope with those situations.    

School counselors know that academic and social/emotional well-being are interconnected and critical to long-term achievement. Counselors play a key role in career development, helping students understand the link between school and work opportunities, while guiding students toward college and career transitions.

The Indiana Department of Workforce Development reports that Indiana will need to fill one million jobs by 2025. Mark Friedmeyer, president of the Indiana School Counselors Association, says counselors need to start the career readiness process at the elementary and middle school levels.

"If they wait until they get to high school to learn about that then that may be too late," he says.

A comprehensive counseling approach provides time for counselors to address all three critical areas with all of their students. Recognizing the increasingly complex challenges schools and students face, a new effort from Lilly Endowment Inc. will address the academic, college and career, and social/emotional needs of students. Through grants to public school districts and charter schools, the Endowment's five-year, $30 million initiative will help schools better meet students' needs for comprehensive school counseling.

This grant is both an exceptional opportunity and a sizeable challenge. That's why the Indiana Youth Institute was asked to assist districts with the planning, implementation, evaluation and sustainability of their initiatives. Information on available services can be found at www.iyi.org/counselinginitiative and by calling 855-244-7175.

Once again, we are reminded that student well-being and achievement is a shared responsibility of schools, families and the community.



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