The role of high school guidance counselors have changed

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — About 23 years ago when Barb List started as a guidance counselor at McCutcheon High School, you could only reach her by telephone or by walking into her office.

List, now assistant principal of William Henry Harrison High School and director of student services, said several aspects of high school counseling remain the same — whether it is assisting students with scheduling, helping students with personal issues or helping students find the next path that is best for their future.

But on top of all of that, counselors now have standardized testing on their plates, List said, among other things.

“We have always had some kind of skin in the game when it comes to testing,” she said. “But it has exploded.”

Testing categories aren’t as different as they have been in previous years, but List said it is the intensity and the expectations from the tests that have grown.

In the high school alone, depending on classes students take, there are nine different state and national tests distributed throughout the year. Those tests exclude final exams and college tests such as the SATs and the ACTs, List said.

Much of what List said counselors learn regarding testing is not taught while pursuing a master’s degree, but instead learned through job shadowing alongside other counselors.

Scott Hanback, Tippecanoe School Corp. superintendent, said the evolving role of counselors is one that is learned through hands-on experience.

“When school personnel are trained for this, what they actually experience is a lot different than what is in their college textbooks,” he said. “It’s truly unique.”

Testing isn’t the only thing that has seen change over the years. Today’s societal view on mental health has opened a new door for students, who no longer feel the need to hide their struggles, List said.

“Now, I think people share more about their mental health issues,” she said. “They share more about their anxiety, their depression, their worries and fears. We have more labels for students, more students with ADHD, more students on the autism spectrum, and it isn’t more kids; it is just more identification in those areas.”

Schools often look to one another to find ways to combat issues among students, Hanback said. A recent announcement by the Indiana Youth Institute and the Lilly Endowment will give schools opportunities on a larger scale to look at various models around the country, to better combat day-to-day occurrences counselors have.

The Lilly Endowment is making $20-$30 million available in grants to public and charter school systems to explore options to provide better counseling services to students and schools. Hanback said TSC plans to take advantage of the potential grant funds.

“We plan to submit a proposal and are currently in the process of collecting survey data,” Hanback said. “If we are successful in receiving this grant, we will be seeking out best-practice resources in terms of counseling models for our schools.”

Based on TSC’s enrollment numbers, the corporation could potentially receive nearly $1.3 million if it is successful in obtaining the grant.

The opportunities TSC could seize are endless, and Hanback said counselors across the state are in need more than ever of assistance in their roles.

“Over time, the caseloads of counselors have just continued to increase dramatically,” he said. “They are being asked to do more with less when it is compared to over 20 years ago.”

List said what she wishes parents understood more is that guidance counselors are behind the scenes in every aspect of a child’s education.

“Even though you can’t measure a lot of what the guidance counselor does, an effective counselors work is visible.”

 

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