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What Does an Elementary School Counselor Do?

While guidance counselors are needed at every level of schooling, they perform different duties depending on the age of the children they work with, and where they are developmentally. Elementary school counselors work with children in the years where they undergo their primary educational development, setting a foundation for the rest of their schooling experience.

School counselor addresses a group of students at Christopher Farms Elementary School
 
School counselors also often work with children regarding issues outside of school as well. From counseling children who are dealing with divorce and other family problems, to assisting them with various mental health issues, an elementary school counselor often covers a bigger sphere than most people realize.
 

Academic Counseling

A big part of an elementary school counselor’s job involves academic counseling. A counselor will meet with students in the classroom, counseling sessions, and through the administration of assessment tests to determine where their weaknesses and strengths lie.1
 
Once these have been determined, a counselor will collaborate with parents, teachers, and other school staff to formulate an action plan that will assist the student in achieving their goals. These plans can include Individual Education Plans (IEP) for special needs students, or offering additional opportunities to students who are advanced.
 

Behavioral Counseling

In the elementary school setting, certain behavioral patterns tend to emerge in students who may be testing their limits or acting out in certain ways. Elementary school counselors attempt to use preventive measures to help ensure these types of behaviors do not become habitual.
 
Bullying: Bullying has become a major issue even in young children and has even been linked to other physical health issues, like headaches, stomach aches, and insomnia. It also causes mental issues, like depression, anxiety, and changes in the stress response system that lead to inability to regulate emotions. This can manifest itself  in other behaviors like vandalism and theft.
 
Conflict Resolution: In a school setting, conflict between students and their peers and even students and staff is inevitable. Whether that confrontation is physical or verbal, it is an important part of a counselor’s job to work to resolve these issues. It is also important that children are taught how to best manage conflict when it arises. School counselors do this through one on one counseling sessions and broader classroom education initiatives.
 
Alcohol and Drug Prevention: Students can be influenced toward drug and alcohol abuse by parents, older siblings or peers. Counselors work to develop drug prevention programs or work with already established ones like the D.A.R.E. initiative. Educating students before they reach adolescence on the temptations they may face in their more advanced school years has proven to be extremely effective.2
 
Elementary school counselors deal with a number of behavioral issues in their day to day activities and work closely with students, parents, staff, and even law enforcement to resolve issues that may arise.
 

Mental Health Issues

The responsibilities of an elementary school counselor are significant, and often one on one time with students is rare. However, students dealing with mental health issues are common and frequently require intervention. A school counselor can help students in this area by taking the following steps.

  • Institute programs to promote awareness of mental health issues in their school.
  • Provide external referrals to mental health professionals who can best meet a student’s individual needs.
  • Recognize warning signs including poor attendance or changes in grades, and respond appropriately.
  • Provide individual counseling when possible and appropriate in order to meet immediate student needs.
  • Support parents, faculty, and administration with appropriate resources.
  •  
    Dealing with mental health issues is just one of the many challenges an elementary school counselor faces. Students deal with a number of social issues as well, and school counselors are often called upon to deal with those as well.

    Social Issues

    Beyond academic challenges, bullying, and other behavioral issues, school counselors also deal with social issues like refugee populations, gender identity, and a rising LGBTQ community within our schools.
     
    Refugee Populations: From English as a Second Language to emotional and cultural differences, integrating refugee populations into schools presents challenges for teachers, administrators, and counselors alike. Resources are often lacking, and bicultural stress has a huge impact on families. Counseling is often a foreign concept and must be approached with care.4
     
    Gender Identity: Many more children are becoming aware of which gender they identify with at a relatively young age. This has a significant effect on their development and social interactions with other students. The direct impact on academic development is also often significant. Elementary school counselors must be prepared to address these issues with kindness, empathy, and education.
     
    LGBTQ Communities:  Although widespread changes have occurred over the past decade, LGBTQ students often experience harassment and bullying which impacts their development and puts them at risk academically. Counselors must work to develop an inclusive LGBT environment at their school by providing safe spaces, student led education groups, providing educational materials to faculty and parents, and referring students and families to outside resources.
     
    These social issues present unique challenges to school counselors and staff. Student, faculty, and parent education are essential to mitigate the impact of these social issues on the academic and personal lives of students.
     
    An elementary school counselor essentially deals with any issue that might impact a student’s development both personally and academically. The Master’s in School Counseling from Wake Forest University prepares graduates to deal with these challenges and makes them eligible for state licensure.
     
    Sources:

    http://learn.org/articles/Elementary_School_Guidance_Counselor_Career_Definition_Employment_Outlook_and_Educational_Requirements.html

    https://www.counseling.org/resources/library/ACA%20Digests/ACAPCD-19.pdf

    https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brains-behavior-science-addiction/preventing-drug-abuse-best-strategy

    http://ct.counseling.org/2013/12/multicultural-counseling-with-the-immigrant-and-refugee-communities/

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