School counselors making a big difference in local kids’ lives

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — School counselors play a bigger role in students' success than many think and although Shelby County Schools has fewer than recommended, the district is making improvements.

This week happens to be National School Counselor Week, an effort to focus attention on the unique contribution of school counselors within American school systems.

Through the giddy chatter at William H. Brewster Elementary, Angela Hodges listens to what's deeper. She's the school counselor, working on academic, social and emotional development of the students.

"How do I help the disruptive student? How do I help the unmotivated student?" she said.  "We're looking to see constantly who's walking down the hall looking at their shoes."

Hodges regularly meets with the kids, their families and teachers, often hearing their worldwide concerns and sobering frustrations within our city.

She's one of 300 school counselors within Shelby County Schools. That's roughly one counselor for every 350 students.

The American School Counselor Association recommends one counselor for every 250 students. It's a ratio set to help students be successful inside and outside of the classroom.

SCS is more than 100 hires behind that but is making improvements.

"We have seen a tremendous impact," said Dr. Rhonda Hill, school counseling manager.

The district adopted a new state model for counselors about two years ago. There are now more counselors, spending more time with students.

"Sometimes our students are experiencing so much," Hill said. "Some of our students, they're really trying to help their parents at home with younger siblings, so we want to give students enough coping strategies so when they're away from us they'll know how to respond appropriately."

Hill said she doesn't think the general public, parents and lawmakers really understand how much counselors do in school districts.

But some like parents, like Marcus Hicks and Kareem Cooper, know kids can sometimes be exposed to a lot.

"Young kids getting killed every day and it's black on black violence, and it's just a lot of things going on with the schools, so we do need more counselors to help," Hicks said.

"There's a lot going on, just in the world, community, life and you can all get past it. So that alone, them putting all those counselors in schools, that's a positive route to go," Cooper said.

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