National School Counseling Week is being celebrated from Feb. 5-9 this year. The job requires superior organizational and interpersonal skills, but counselors say the students make it worth the challenge.
Newton High School students are guided by a team of three school counselors — Jana Crittenden, Alex Tyler and Kelsey Vinopal.
The team deals with personal, social and emotional issues as well as college planning, problem solving, study skills and course scheduling.
"Right now, we're working with students on their course requests for next year," Crittenden said.
Using those course requests, the NHS counselors build the school's master schedule to facilitate the students' individual plans of study.
"It's not just a counselor thing, although it seems to be driven out of our office. It is a school-wide process," Crittenden said. "We have a lot of teachers with a lot of expertise in different content areas and they are integral in helping students who are interested in those areas to grow and pursue careers."
The counselors provide resources for both students and parents who comes to them with questions.
"We do a lot of collaboration within the department and with teachers and administration to try and find those resources," Crittenden said.
NHS counselors are assigned students based on the first letter of their last name. That student will stay with their counselor throughout their high school years.
"You do get to know families, because you have siblings," Crittenden said.
Part of their job includes preparing students for college.
"This last fall, we had a FAFSA completion night for parents," Crittenden said. "The first time you do the FAFSA, it's pretty overwhelming."
The counselors also assist in resolving conflicts between students or parents and teachers.
"We spend a lot of time on academics, problem-solving with students if they having missing assignments or failing grades," Crittenden said. "...But then, throughout the day, we do some mediation if things come up."
That mediation may come in the form of working out a solution with students who are fighting or filing a report of abuse with the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
"We're finding that a lot of our kids are coming with past trauma," Crittenden noted.
Students entering high school may be experiencing poverty, abuse, neglect or grief after the death of a parent, sibling or grandparent.
"There's all kinds of adverse events that kids are coming to us with and that's where that relationship becomes important, because sometimes they're pretty closed," Crittenden said.
If students seem to need help, a teacher can refer them to a counselor.
"You have to be able to roll with it. You've got to shift gears. Sometimes, it's triaging what is most critical. If a student comes in in tears, everything else stops," Crittenden said.
Some students are brought into the counselor's office by their friends.
"I never will say I have seen it all," Crittenden said. "This is my 14th year at Newton and my 15th year as a counselor, and every year I get something I've never had before."
Tyler said that was part of what makes being a counselor appealing to him.
"I like that it's not the same thing every day," Tyler said. "You can have a plan, but it never goes to plan."
Making connections with students while working in college admissions motivated Vinopal to look into school counseling.
"When I was in high school, I had interacted with the counselor quite often," Vinopal said. "I knew I wanted to go into a helping profession."
Crittenden said she moved from teaching into counseling.
"I had students in my class that I felt needed something that I didn't know how to offer them," Crittenden said.
All three counselors said finding time to talk with students both individually and collectively was one of the hardest parts of the job.
"There are days, especially like right now, when they have a lot of questions, when they're lined up in the hallway," Crittenden said.
"I think the challenge is just being able to juggle everything," Vinopal said. "...You could be switching from academic career to social and emotional — it's just wearing many hats."
Tammy Fast is the only school counselor in Moundridge, assisting kindergarten through 12th grade students. Her days are filled with "all kinds of fun" as she strives to develop the students' study and social skills.
Fast teaches a weekly counseling class for each level of kindergarten through fourth grade students.
"We just finished a goal-setting unit and we are moving on to careers this month," Fast said.
In the class, Fast works to find the interests and abilities of students and to introduce career options.
"My hope is that we will be realizing their potential and helping them set good, healthy, realistic goals," Fast said.
Fast also assists older students.
"We have spent the last few weeks getting all sixth through eighth graders a plan of study," Fast said.
That plan includes interest, ability and values inventories, as well as career and post-secondary education exploration.
Fast meets with Moundridge high schoolers to update the information in their plan of study as they move from their freshman year to graduation.
The spring semester is a busy one for Fast.
"We are gearing up for enrollment for the 2018-19 school year and February parent-teacher conferences," Fast said.
Her goal is to meet with all parents of students in eighth to 11th grades.
"The focus is especially with freshmen and their parents as they prepare for high school," Fast said. "Freshmen through juniors will have conferences with a teacher and their parent to look at their plan of study and what enrollment looks like for next fall."
The support of coworkers makes being the only counselor for the Moundridge school district easier for Fast.
"I am blessed with a very supportive administration," Fast said. "They pitch in — as does the entire staff — with our students."
Fast said the most frustrating thing about her work is that she feels she is not able to spend "adequate" time in every school building.
"Although the needs of our students are great, I have very little time for individual counseling of students," Fast said. "I do more check-ins with students to try and support them as much as possible."
Having an intern from Fort Hays State University present during this semester gives Fast additional resources.
"It's great to have another set of eyes, ears and hands," Fast said.
Overall, Fast said she loves working with the students in Moundridge.
"I would say it's a hard job, but it is a rewarding job," Fast said. "My students, staff and administration are amazing."