One of the biggest challenges for Columbus Public Schools counselors is parents, not kids.
“Many people think, ‘oh, those who see the school counselor are the problem kids.’ But that’s not true,” said Angie Kruse, one of four Columbus Middle School counselors. “We’re not just here for a few students, we’re here for all of them.”
School counselors have historically been thought of as people who handle disciplinary items or clerical work, like helping provide kids insight into potential career paths or aid with scholarship applications. But the position has evolved just like the title has changed from guidance to school in the title. These individuals help provide support for emotional and social problems students may be experiencing, among other things.
Columbus Public Schools has shown its commitment by having counselors at all of its educational facilities. There is one at each of the district’s five elementary schools, and this year CMS and Columbus High School both added one additional counselor. That has resulted in one counselor for each grade at both sites.
At CMS, Kruse, along with Kim Shevlin, Jared Johnson and Mandy Boesch, collaborate with each other and their counterparts district-wide to best serve their students. CMS features fifth- through eighth-grade students.
“It’s very much a team effort,” Kruse said. “We all work very well together.”
With it being National School Counselor Week (Feb. 4-8), the four educators said they’re hoping to shatter the stigma that exists when it comes to what they and their peers do on a daily basis. Using the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) Model, CPS counselors strive to support their students so they can be successful in all aspects of their lives.
“I think we help remove any barriers that we can to help kids focus on school,” Johnson said.
How counselors help can vary. It can range from providing social and emotional support to aiding in solving a problem among peers.
“Sometimes, especially at this age, they may just need a little help with conflict resolution, getting along with others,” Kruse said.
The four CMS counselors, who work with a specific class they follow through up until they go on to high school, develop a strong rapport with their kids. So much so, the four said they have kids who will simply pop in to say hello, maybe talk about an issue outside of school like the death of a family pet or just be in need of a pencil or a bandage for a small cut.
“The thing I enjoy most about is building the relationships with the students,” Johnson said, which the other three agreed with almost instantly.
The key to CPS counselors’ success boils down to understanding every student is unique and treating them as such. No kid is the same, they stressed.
“You’ll have a kid who losing their lanyard is the end of their day. They just can’t function because for them, losing something like that is a big deal,” Shevlin said, showing the CMS lanyards. “But to another kid, who is maybe coming from a situation where maybe they don’t have heat in their house or don’t have clean clothes to wear, losing a lanyard is not a big deal to them. So their issues are much bigger. So it just depends on the kid and the situation. No kid is the same.
“But at the same time, losing a lanyard to the one kid that throws their day into a tailspin – it’s just as important for us to help that student as it is to help the student coming from a situation where there are more problems."
Boesch and Johnson said it’s nice for anybody to have an outlet, with Kruse noting it’s important for kids to have an adult in the building they can talk to – whether it be one of them or a teacher.
The CMS counselors are also getting in the classrooms. Every other week, they spend about half an hour with students going over a variety of subjects, including social media/cyberbullying, harassment and conflict (how to identify and what you can do), coping skills and career building. Known as “anchor time,” the counselors rotate through students’ core classes to coordinate the special sessions.
“They love it,” Boesch said.
The school also kicks off each day with a 15-minute advisory program in which teachers touch on various subjects provided by the counseling team. Topics that have been included are healthy relations, digital literacy, healthy habits, school unity and community service.
That's on top of the many school unity projects staff and students work on, such as the kindness tree prominently on display in the main hallway of the building. Everyone writes a kind act they did and adds it to the tree for all to see.
What’s most rewarding and exciting for the counselors is watching kids develop throughout the school year and during their time at CMS. That’s what, in a way, drives them.
“We want to get people to understand what the role of a school counselor is,” Shevlin said. “There is a stigma about going to see a counselor we want to overcome … It’s not a bad thing. Maybe fixing that one little problem is going to allow them to be more successful during their school day.
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.