Connecting with Students: School Counselors

February 3-7, 2020 is National School Counseling Week. In recognition of the incredible role that school counselors play, we’re featuring school counselors who have been recognized as School Counselor of the Year by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA).

Students enroll in our schools to learn mathematics, language arts, science, history, music, and more. However, before our students can truly learn educators need to authentically connect with them. Our students enter our hallways and classrooms bringing diverse experiences, cultures, and knowledge to lend to the learning in a school. Students need connections between these experiences, talents, and intelligence and their education. School counselors create those connections. We connect with students in order to connect them to their education. School counselors take time to not only understand their students’ needs and concerns but also their strengths, talents, passions, and character. Valuing and validating all that our students bring to the tables and desks in our classrooms is the beginning of creating strong connections and a place where all students feel as though they can thrive.

School counselors work with students who have adverse childhood experiences that require safe places to learn academics and grow emotionally. We create relationships with students of different ethnicities and races that require us to be culturally responsive in our interactions and teaching. School counselors support students who have had negative educational experiences that require our understanding and interventions to ensure their current educational experience is positive and reinforcing of their strengths and abilities. We are a part of our students’ daily lives, providing them with support, resources, skills, and knowledge to help them succeed academically, grow and develop socially and emotionally, and explore postsecondary opportunities.

By being educators who strive to understand and connect with our students, school counselors can then provide appropriate supports and resources that will help our students find academic success. We connect students to study skills and time-management strategies so that they can balance their workloads and be efficient in their academic pursuits. School counselors connect students to mindsets that will help them continue to pursue academic progress and goals. We collaborate, consult, and educate with stakeholders on ways to engage students in school and to teach with a lens of cultural responsiveness.

School counselors’ understanding of and connections with their students allow them to clearly see students’ social and emotional needs and strengths. We connect students to coping strategies when faced with challenging and overwhelming feelings. School counselors help students recognize their strengths and accomplishments connecting students to a self-confidence that helps them to persevere. We assist them in using their strengths as they develop leadership skills. School counselors teach and help our students practice empathy, understand diverse perspectives, collaborate and problem solve in ways that benefit them now and in the future.

Our students need understanding and connection from school counselors so that they can know how their talents, passions, current knowledge, and learned knowledge and skills in school can lead to postsecondary opportunities and success. We link them to opportunities that help them grow their areas of interest and skills. School counselors create engagement for students showing the relevance between their current learning and future goals and aspirations. We partner with our students as they begin to see the positive impact they make in their communities.

A graduate of The University of Georgia, Ross has served as a school counselor for nine years. She has been at Five Forks Middle School since 2014. Ross’s prior work as a counselor at an adult men’s correctional facility fueled her passion for restorative justice in her current role at Five Forks. During the 2018– 19 school year, Ross noticed male African American and Latino students made up 49 percent of all discipline referrals. After setting a goal to decrease referrals by 15 percent, Ross and her department developed a multitiered intervention plan for the entire school. By the end of the school year, discipline referrals for African American and Latino males decreased 32 percent. 

In addition to her school counseling responsibilities, Ross works with several programs to help create “connectedness culture.” Ross, the founding sponsor of the school’s first GayStraight Alliance, is leading an effort to ensure Five Forks is supportive and responsive to LGBTQ students. She also serves as a cadre trainer for the Dove Self-Esteem Project, facilitating presentations about teen body confidence to educators. She also is the school district’s Counseling Steering Committee middle school chair.

The School Counselor of the Year award honors professionals who devote their careers to advocating for the nation’s students and addressing their academic and social/emotional development and college and career readiness needs.