Derry Middle School Looks to Fill Guidance Counseling Needs

As the Derry Cooperative School District conducts its budget meetings and workshops for FY 2020-2021, a request for full time guidance counselor’s position stood out for budget consideration discussions. Middle school students are living at a time with a lot of different challenges and in highly stressful situations and appropriate counseling support is required to support many different student needs.

The position discussed for a full-time middle school guidance counselor role is for West Running Brook Middle School (WRB). Hood Middle School has 3 dedicated full-time guidance counselors, while West Running Brook only has 2.5 counselors – 2 full time and 1 part time.  With about 200 students at each middle school, there is a case that both middle schools are under resourced given the many challenges for the “tweens” and teens that attend middle school. At the meeting, it was formally requested that West Running Brook budget a .5 position, so they are on par with Hood to have 3 full time positions.

Ginger Drexel, West Running Brook Principal, and Guidance Counselors,  Cherri Haidaichuk and Phil Baroody, were at the meeting to outline the needs for more counseling support at the middle school.

Drexel addressed the school budget group, “The reason for this request is that we have found the needs of our student body, at this time, require a deeper level of attention and service from our guidance department. The request is based on the years and standards previously set for guidance counselors to student ratio in determining support for the things that we’re seeing on a regular basis.”

“And needs of our students continue to grow based on dynamics in the community, as well as, things that are occurring amongst the kids themselves, to the different things they now encounter on a daily basis.”

Middle school students are characterized by rapid physical growth, curiosity about their world and an emerging self-identity.  School counselors have an impact on these years by implementing appropriate programs and by collaborating with school staff and parents to create a safe, respectful learning environment whereby adolescents can maximize personal and academic achievement.

Middle school counselors  are expected to enhance the overall learning process and promote academic career and social/emotional development. School counseling programs are often central for students to achieve optimal personal growth in the face of many challenges, as well as, acquire positive social skills and values, set informed career goals and realize full academic potential to become productive, contributing members of the community.

Guidance counselors now face a list of challenges in a complex environment that is today’s middle school life.  And there is often a need to go well beyond the responsibilities many of us have associated with school counselors in previous times. Middle school is significantly more challenged, multifaceted and difficult than even a decade ago. Here are some of the challenges that these counselors must deal with -overviewed by WRB Guidance Counselors: Cherri Haidaichuk and Phil Baroody.

Mental-health issues including depression appear to be on the rise – likely rooted in the anxiety of today’s fast paced setting with problems of information overload.  These concerns are likely impacting student relationships and school counselors really need to identify students having these needs and provide them with short-term or long-term support to meet these challenges.

There’s a lot of stress on students these days to perform well, whether that be academically or through activities and sports. In the past, that might have been dismissed by some, but today there is lot more awareness of stress, depression, anxiety and bipolar diagnoses, so school counselors need to know how to connect students with the right resources to help them.

Although bullying is hardly a new concern, technology and social media have amplified such behavior in a major way.  School counselors need to identify students who’ve been bullied and identify the bullying behavior in context of legal and cultural issues. Social media has now brought along the subset of cyber-bullying, which is the cause of dynamic and sometimes hidden matters. 

There are now more instant ways to bully other students in a public setting, thanks to the virtual aspect of social-media platforms that are now extremely widespread.  This presents difficult challenge for counselors, students and parents to deal with that will likely be viewed from many different emotional viewpoints.

Suicide has also become a progression from bullying, so it is important to focus on bullying prevention and bullying intervention to deal with suicide situations.  School counselors must be cognizant and aware of any students who might be exhibiting any behaviors that might indicate self-harm and respond to those immediately – connecting with parents and guardians to make sure they’re aware of the situation and connecting students and parents with community resources that can provide support around self-harm feelings and ideas.

Family issues, burnout, life balance, planning for the future, immigration, inequity and gender issues are also situations on the rise at middle schools giving  counselor even more challenges. School districts must support these students and face these issues where appropriate.