Most of the high school guidance counselors I know won’t have much time to celebrate National School Counseling Week (February 4-8) this year. They happen to be too busy.
And here are a few reasons why:
- National student-to-school counselor rates increased dramatically last year to 471-1—a far cry from the 250-1 ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association (see how your state stacks up).
- Every nine seconds an American high school student becomes a dropout—that’s about one in four students who enter high school as freshmen fail to earn a diploma four years later.
- Seventeen percent of high schoolers drink, smoke, or use drugs during the school day.
- Of the 76 percent of high school students who have used tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, or cocaine, one in five meets the medical criteria for addiction.
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens and the second leading cause of death in colleges.
- For every adolescent who completes suicide, there are between 50 and 200 suicide attempts.
- About one in three high school students have been or will be involved in an abusive relationship.
- Ten percent of high school students have used inhalants; 7 percent report using Ecstasy; and 6 percent have tried cocaine.
- A large, national survey of adolescent mental health reported that about 8 percent of teens ages 13-18 have an anxiety disorder; only 18 percent received mental health care.
- According to the CDC, 46% of high school students have had sex and potentially are at risk for HIV, STDs, and pregnancy.
- More than a quarter of high school students report being bullied during the most recent year studied by the NCES and about 6 percent were bullied online by other students.
Instead of going out for a celebration, school guidance counselors are helping kids address personal and social problems, substance abuse, attendance issues, and academics. They’re trying to keep kids from dropping out, doing dope, or causing harm to themselves or others—all within the context of caseloads that far exceed the wildest estimates of what anyone thinks is prudent or sane.
The American School Counselor Association recommends that parents “maintain an open dialogue with their child’s counselor and establish contact in-person, or via phone and email at least three times per school year.” Sounds good, but how often does it happen?
I work with local students and parents who have never met, nor think it’s particularly important to meet with their guidance counselor. In all fairness, the counselor may not have had time to reach out, and the system seems to actively work to thwart the relationship. But still, the door is seldom entirely closed.
And yet when it comes time for applying to college, who do these same students and parents think organizes the school paperwork and writes recommendations? Who is currently in the process of gathering information for the all-important midyear reports on which college candidacies may rise or fall? And how does anyone think these reports or recommendations can be anything but generic if there is no personal interaction at any time during the high school career?
So let’s begin breaking down barriers. Why not take a moment to make to start or renew a friendship in the guidance office? Take the occasion of National School Counseling Week to send an email, write a note, or stop by the office to thank the person behind the desk. Even better—drop by the principal’s office and tell the boss what a great job your counselor is doing.
And knowing many school counselors in every corner of the country, I’d say a hug would very likely be appreciated and warmly accepted.