From the start, it was clear: School counselors were going to be some of the most important people for students struggling to adjust to a dynamically changing social, emotional and academic environment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, as we come upon the one-year anniversary of massive school closures related to the pandemic, a new report from Harvard University and Boston College reveals that counselors often were not given the tools and support they needed to help them best help their students. But the report also demonstrates something that, if you know a school counselor, probably won’t surprise you at all: Despite a massive lack of resources counselors across the nation went above and beyond for their students anyway.
According to the report, counselors were not able to spend as much time as usual working directly with students on social-emotional issues, post-secondary planning, and career development. Instead, the study shows, counselors were often called upon to fill logistical or administrative needs.
“School counselors have long endured less than ideal working conditions, such as high caseloads, non-counseling responsibilities, and limited time with students,” said the study’s co-author, Harvard Graduate School of Education senior lecturer Mandy Savitz-Romer. “However, these challenges were intensified during remote schooling, which is alarming given that counselors’ unique expertise in mental health and counseling is more critical than ever.”
Yet the report reveals that counselors didn’t shrink from their responsibilities during this time. Like teachers — although often with far fewer established resources to do so — they retooled and revamped to serve students online.
Some made calls to every in-need student’s home — every week. Others went “app shopping” and learned to use new social media platforms to connect with their students. And some traded their own personal privacy and spare time so that they could be available to students and their families.
“I had to give up my rule of not giving students and parents my cell number because this turned out to be the only way I could connect with some families,” one counselor noted.
At Graduation Alliance, we also saw this firsthand in scores of school districts across the nation.
We witnessed counselors tirelessly advocate for students who hadn’t been “at-risk” before the pandemic, but most certainly were once the world shifted. We saw counselors who personally drove hours to deliver laptop computers and internet cards to students who needed it. We know counselors who established “24-7 office hours” for students in crisis.
Not every counselor did the same things to serve their students, but we don’t know of a single counselor who didn’t go well above and beyond the call of duty in a tremendously trying time.
For that, we cannot help but be grateful, awful, and determined to ensure that our work continues to support these remarkable people, both in times of crisis and — hopefully soon — times of calm.
We understand that not every school has the resources available to provide the support students so desperately need in today’s education environment. Graduation Alliance has multiple layers of support – whether it’s 1 student or 100 – to help. Interested in learning more? Click here.