Letter: National School Counselor Week starts Monday

To the Editor,

Beginning February 1st, communities throughout the nation will celebrate the annual National School Counselor Week (NSCW). This is a time dedicated to recognize the invaluable role that professional school counselors have in the lives of our country’s most valuable assets: our children. The theme that the Massachusetts Association of School Counselors (MASCA) has selected for this year seeks to bring attention to the comprehensive nature of the school counselor role: “School Counselors: Fostering Career, Academic, Personal/Social-Emotional Development.”

The role and qualifications of school counselors have changed drastically throughout the years. The first vestiges of the profession can be traced back to the 1800 with the emergence of the Industrial Revolution. However, the idea of providing students with a systematic guidance program was first introduced in 1907 by Jessie B. Davis (1871-1945). A school superintendent at the time, Davis proposed that teachers should integrate vocational guidance as part of their weekly lessons to aid students with post-secondary choices after graduation. His model emphasized, among others, the development of students’ character building and problem solving skills (Erford, 2014). But it was not until the proclamation of the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) of 1958 that guidance and counseling services were officially required in our schools. The general purpose of the NDEA was to improve and strengthen the American educational system and encourage students to continue their studies beyond high school
specifically in the science, technical, engineering and mathematics fields.

But, the emerging guidance counselor occupation was drafted without clear professional or career guidelines making the role ambiguous and open to multiple interpretations (Lam, 2005; Pyne, 2011). On the one hand, just as many other initiatives included in the NDEA, what was clear is that counselors were called upon to help increase American students’ academic achievement and competitiveness in the world. But, on the other hand, the specific knowledge, preparation, professional tasks and required skills they required were still unclear. Thus, in the absence of professional guidelines, the job was often perceived as something between a mental health counselor and a sport coach (Bringman and Lee, 2010). Indeed, the guidance counselor/sport coach dual role was a trend in schools well into the early 2000 (Tomski, 1985; Wilson, 2000).

However, it is not until 2001, when the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) began developing guidelines for a comprehensive service delivery model that would culminate in the National Model for School Counseling Programs (ASCA, 2003), that the ambiguity surrounding guidance and counseling begins to clear (Gysbers, 2003).

Today, a professional school counselor is defined by ASCA as a “certified/licensed educator who improves success for all students by implementing a comprehensive school counseling program”. Becoming a school counselor requires today a minimum of a master’s degree in school counseling. School counselors abide by ACCA’s ethical and professional standards and implement counseling programs based on the ASCA Model principles of foundation, delivery, management and accountability. They guide and inform their professional standards by four basic principles: leadership, advocacy, collaboration and systemic change (ASCA, 2012). The wide scope of a school counselor’s comprehensive services requires a systemic approach to deliver developmentally appropriate services to support each and every child in the areas of career, academic, personal, and socio-emotional development. Today’s school counselors are dedicated professionals who play a pivotal role in improving the lives of students as they are equipped to understand the impact that socio-economic and socio-cultural factors have in each child. They are aware of socially constructed inequalities and act as leaders within schools to provide access to the disadvantaged. They bring equity to the forefront of their services and use research and data to lead efforts to make changes on school
related aspects that require improvement.

The week of February 1st, we invite you to recognize the work and effort of these often undervalued professionals, whose role, especially this year, has been essential in schools across the commonwealth. They have been there reaching out, listening, comforting, engaging, advocating, advising, supporting, connecting, encouraging, and caring for each school-age child in Massachusetts. In the Westfield Public Schools, we honor and celebrate our School Counselors at Westfield Middle School: Alison Kelly (School Counselor for Grade 7) and Lindsey Michalik (School Counselor for Grade 8); Westfield Technical Academy: Andrea Arvanites (School Counselor for Grades 11-12) and Carol Groom (School Counselor for Grades 9-10); and Westfield High School: Merylina Asselin (School Counselor for Grades 10-12), Tara Bean (School Counselor for Early College Access), Bob Coe (School Counselor for Grades 10-12), Patty Healy (School Counselor for Grades 10-12), Casey Keefe (School Counselor for Grade 9), Kristin Puleo (School Counselor for Grades 10-12), and Megan Stopa (School Counselor for Grades 10-12).

Kristin A. Puleo
School Counselor
Westfield High School

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