“It might be the only person that a child or a student has to seek out for mental-health support is the counselor.”
In Massachusetts schools, the counselor-to-student ratio is critically high, with one counselor for every 364 students.
School counselors say they do it all – from helping kids cope with depression or anxiety, to academic and career counseling. But academics come second when a child faces emotional issues.
Tama Lang is a counselor at at Litwin Elementary in Chicopee, who said she struggles to help all 350 students in her building.
“Sometimes I wish I could clone myself,” said Lang, “because if there was another one of me, I could get so much more done and meet the needs of students better.”
Some districts are offering sign-on bonuses to recruit more school counselors, but say not enough people are entering the masters-degree programs required to work in schools – and federal funding received during the pandemic will soon be gone.
Backers of Massachusetts’ Fair Share Amendment, on the November ballot, say it would direct new tax revenue from million-dollar incomes to public schools – and potentially help ease the caseloads of school counselors.
Bob Bardwell – executive director of the Massachusetts School Counselors Association – said more school counselors of color are also needed, to serve a diverse student body that’s been disproportionately affected during the pandemic.
One in 360 children nationwide lost a parent or caregiver in the past two years. Bardwell said schools also deal with the lingering stigma around mental health.
“We know that there’s limited options sometimes within the community to receive mental-health services,” said Bardwell. “So it might be the only person that a child or a student has to seek out for mental-health support is the counselor.”
While efforts are being made to increase funding as well as increase the number of college graduates seeking counseling careers, Bardwell said too many kids are hurting now.
Kathryn Carley began her career in community radio, and is happy to be back, covering the New England region for Public News Service. Getting her start at KFAI in Minneapolis, Carley graduated from the University of Minnesota and then worked as a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio, focusing on energy and agriculture. Moving to Washington, D.C., she filed stories for The Pacifica Network News and The Pacifica Report. Later Carley worked as News Host for New York Public Radio, WNYC as well as Co-Anchor for Newsweek’s long running radio program, Newsweek on Air. Carley also served as News Anchor for New York Times Radio. She now lives near Boston, MA.