SUPPORTING STUDENTS: Counseling and Student Support Services remain open during hybrid learning. (Emily Falconer)
SUPPORTING STUDENTS: Counseling and Student Support Services remain open during hybrid learning.

Emily Falconer

Student Support Services adjust to methods of online aid

March 16, 2021

From experiencing a pandemic to trying to juggle remote learning among other responsibilities, many high school students have simply found themselves struggling in a way they have never experienced before. Though school counselors push out resources and encouraging emails, some students still hold mixed feelings for the Counseling and Student Support Services (CSSS) department. 

Role of Student Services

As presented in a Jan. 11 Board of Education meeting, Associate Principals Erin Ludwick (DGN) and Sara Courington (DGS), along with CSSS leaders Dr. Vince Walsh-Rock (DGS) and David King (DGN) provided information on how exactly the district goes about supporting students.

The presentation highlighted the three systems of support that encompass student services: academic, social-emotional and post-secondary. Three factors were also identified in supporting struggling students: identity, intervene and assess.

“Our teachers and counselors often collaborate and a lot of times the combined effort between the parents, teachers and counselor team is successful in making a positive change especially in the area of academics or in helping a student identify what their social-emotional needs are,” Ludwick said.

An internal referral form was created in the spring for District 99 teachers and counselors to track data and see trends that otherwise would have been neglected due to the elimination of quick in-person “step into my office” check-ins.

The presenters concluded by showing off a website that was created the week of March 16 that is continually updated with resources to further support students, parents and faculty.

School Counselor Mark Wasik details the extent of what exactly counselors do, beyond the stereotypical creating, managing and changing student schedules.

School Counselor Mark Wasik details the extent of what exactly counselors do, beyond the stereotypical creating, managing and changing student schedules.

“As counselors, we’re trained in areas of academics and it’s not just about scheduling, it’s about helping students find supports that they may need in any subject,” Wasik said. “Along those lines, we’re connecting kids to different resources, getting tutors for them or working with their parents on establishing better routines and habits.”

Wasik believes that communication is essential for identifying struggling students, and factors such as grade checks and teacher feedback play into who is reached out to.

“We respond to concerns, whether it’s coming from a teacher, parent or student,” Wasik said. “There is that struggle with the kids who aren’t being identified or coming to us for support. Sometimes it’s very one-sided where it’s us constantly reaching out but we’re not getting a lot back. With anything, we have to have a response.”

As far as email responses are concerned, Wasik noted that it is within a school counselor’s professional responsibility to answer back.

“We really try to respond within 24-48 hours; we all take pride in getting back to families and getting back to all emails within that time. I think during course registration when we’re really bombarded with a ton of emails and requests we put out a caveat of 48-72 hours since it’s such a heavy time, but people tend to be very understanding of that,” Wasik said.

Dealing with Death

In response to a student unsatisfied with how their counselor handled addressing a death of their immediate family member, King, who is also the CSSS chairperson at DGN, believes the best action to be taken by a CSSS member while managing a death in a student’s life is to provide comfort, support and availability.

“Being available and supportive to the student/family in whatever capacity the student/family desires is the best course of action to take. The response to death and the mourning period is dependent on the student/family. Therefore the CSSS member should provide their services based on that response,” King said.

King believes that it is not appropriate for a student to have to reach out to their school first when they are struggling and the school has been notified of the issue. Additionally, King highlighted a few of the specific ways that DGN is currently supporting students if they are in need of help, but recognized that this is not an exhaustive list.

“We have developed unique supports to engage students that are in-person as well as those that are remote to encourage and increase student engagement,” King said. “CSSS has developed accessible content through classroom lessons, recorded virtual sessions for students to view at their leisure, evening events in a virtual setting for stakeholders to access safely and a multitude of virtual resources on their Google Classroom pages. Most recently, our CSSS Social Workers and School Psychologists have offered open group sessions around stress management, emotions, motivation and ways to improve the moment.”

King further recognizes that CSSS is constantly looking for ways to improve their practice, availability and accessibility to their students, no matter the setting.

Counselors Response to Student Concerns

Though counseling is often thought of as dealing with social-emotional responses, academics are handled as well. Junior Andy Perino has found his overall experience with counselors at DGN to be varied.

“Every time I’ve met with them they have always seemed preoccupied and have rarely actually resolved any issues I’ve had,” Perino said. “Whenever I try to email them they are inconsistent with how often they respond and don’t always answer my questions.”

Perino found himself in a tough situation when attempting to piece together his schedule for the upcoming semester.

“I had emailed my counselor about changing my schedule and got no response. When I met with them in person they were unable to change my schedule and ended up placing me in a gym class that I didn’t sign up for,” Perino said. “I was frustrated not only because I couldn’t take the class I originally wanted to but also because I didn’t find out about the change in my schedule until the day before school started.”

Despite Perino trying to reach out via email to fix his schedule, he was never fully able to iron out the issue.

“The situation never really got resolved and I was pretty much left to deal with it on my own by taking a class I didn’t sign up for,” Perino said.

Junior Kat Rutkowski has also found herself in a similar situation to Perino’s when dealing with her school counselor via email.

“Essentially, every time I would email my counselor with questions or requests, I wouldn’t hear back for a minimum of two weeks, sometimes not at all,” Rutkowski said. “For things that were of time urgency, this was really really stressful.”

Rutkowski was having trouble with Home Access Center and properly registering for next year’s classes.

“I emailed [my counselor] about it twice and didn’t hear back until the day it was all due. Luckily, they said they would sort it out, but it caused me lots of stress nevertheless,” Rutkowski said. “I have also reached out in regards to colleges and looking for help and not received proper responses via an email letting me know they’d look into it and now follow-up, or no email back at all.” 

For Rutkowski, this interaction caused a break in trust that will affect her desire to reach out in the future.

“I feel that if I have any sort of question or need assistance for something in the near future, I can’t really count on them for timely help, if any at all,” Rutkowski said.

In response to anonymous student quotes expressing unfavorable experiences, King and School Counselor Cyndi Karmik recognize that with any job comes negative feedback, but hearing it, acknowledging it and simply making things better is of utmost importance.

“I believe all counselors strive to meet all students’ needs. While supporting our students to the best of our abilities, I believe it’s important to remember that we are also human—people can make unintentional mistakes or inadvertently overlook something,” Karmik said. “I absolutely recognize that when this happens it causes stress and frustration.”

“I have experienced situations and feelings like this not only when I was a teenager, but also as an adult in my everyday life,” she added. “I know it doesn’t feel good. When situations like this happen, I feel it’s an opportunity to put one’s self-advocacy skills to great use.”

Additionally, Karmik wants to encourage all students to think about how they can approach situations differently and professionally in order to get their needs met. This can include stopping by their counselor’s office in person, leaving a voicemail, reaching out via Google Chat or making a scheduled appointment.

“I believe having a strong advocacy skillset will not only serve a student well throughout their DGN high school experience, but also life,” Karmik said.

For King, he apologies on behalf of the Counseling and Student Services Department, for “the feelings of angst” said negative experiences have caused.

“The goal of every communication, discussion or meeting between a student and CSSS should be to support and build upon the relationship. Each member of the CSSS Department strives to promote a positive school culture as well as effective response to all stakeholders,” King said. “All members of CSSS would agree, our response to student inquiries should be at the highest of our priorities and given the unique attention each student deserves. As we continue to welcome more students back this spring and next fall, I would encourage students to continue to reach out to their counselors in the counseling office.”   

Positive Experiences

Despite some students having trouble with their counselors, others have found an opposite reality. Senior Grace Lockerby found herself in a tough situation that was quickly able to be resolved by her counselor.

“I was enrolled in AP Psych for second semester this year and I wanted to switch it to a different social studies class because I didn’t want to do all the AP work my last semester of high school,” Lockerby said. “My counselor was able to switch me into Contemporary American Issues even though counselors aren’t usually allowed to switch your schedule once the semester starts.”

For Lockerby, the switching of classes was a huge relief and she now is much less stressed than she would have been.

Like Lockerby, sophomore Madeline Topic had a counselor help her out in a time of need when she had an English test overlap with a scheduled counseling appointment. Her teacher wanted her to miss most of her lunch to take the test despite Topic offering to stay late, come in early or go during her off period.

“During the meeting, I told him that she was going to make me miss lunch so he walked me back to class after our meeting and he talked to her about finding another time for me to take the test because it wasn’t fair that I would miss lunch,” Topic said. 

After everything was resolved, Topic was grateful that an adult figure was able to stand up for her.

“It all got solved in the end but it was very nice to have an adult help advocate for me.”

Like Lockerby and Topic, many other students have found themselves in positive situations when dealing with their school counselors, from making schedule arrangements to helping with future college plans.

Actively Seeking to Do More 

Karmik believes that a school counselor’s main goal is to maximize a student’s success and promote access and equity for all students.

“We do this through activities such as individual student academic planning or goal setting, school counseling classroom lessons, providing short term support, providing referrals for long term support and collaboration with families, teachers, administrators or the community for student success,” Karmik said.

Karmik would personally love to hear more from students on more creative ways to reach them when they’re in need. She believes that school counselors are always working to improve their lines of communication and overall visibility throughout the student body and school.

“On a daily basis, we are actively supporting students, parents and staff,” Karmik said. “From the beginning, the pandemic has thrown us both challenges and limitations. Situations are more layered and complicated; communication takes longer between many different stakeholders and a variety of student needs have increased. Despite all this, our mission to positively help and effectively support students has never wavered.”

Neutral to No Opinion

For some students, the need for a school counselor has been entirely absent with the exception of schedule construction.

“I’ve never gone to the counselor so I’ve never been let down,” junior Kyle Miller said.

This attitude remains common among many students who have not been faced with any issues that they wish to talk about with school professionals. For other students, outside resources such as therapy and out-patient centers provide more aid in an environment outside of the building.

Help is Always Around

The conflict between counselors and students seems to remain: some students feel let down, some have had great experiences and others have no opinion.

Whether students choose to utilize them or not, school counselors pride themselves on being available to support students whenever they are in need. Though not everyone may find counselors necessary, they are still a part of the staff and will offer their aid whenever possible.

If you’re struggling but want to seek help outside of school, check out these resources:

 

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