MESA — As parents, teachers and kids settle into remote learning school counselors are also hard at work, addressing their students’ social and emotional needs. It is no easy task, yet they are still finding ways to stay connected.
We first met Edison Elementary School Counselor Jaime Clemens in August of 2019. She was making the rounds with her students and feeling grateful for her permanent spot on just one campus. Mesa Public Schools hired 35 additional counselors this school year, dropping Clemens’ case load from 1300 students to 700.
With schools closed through the remainder of the academic year, those daily, in-person interactions are much harder to come by. Now, Clemens supports her students using phone calls and as many online platforms as she can to connect.
“I worry about their safety and health, and the stress of their family,” Clemens said. “Before I would have a lot of interaction with the students, you know and ask questions and would be silly if we need to in the middle or whatever, but I am trying to find some great videos. Things that just hopefully can give them some peace and maybe a little laugh.”
School counselors in Arizona were already facing an uphill battle before school closures. The most recent data shows our state’s average student to school counselor ratio is 925-to-1. The worst in the nation, more than double the national average and a far cry from the American School Counselor Association’s recommended ration of 250-to-1.
“There are definitely some students that we’re worried about and we think about all the time,” said Janine Menard, who is a school counselor in the Tolleson Elementary School District. She is also previous chair of the Arizona School Counselors Association.
“What I’m finding right now is families are in crisis,” said Menard. “Please let us know what you need, we’re here, we’re worrying about your kids.”
Several school districts are reaching out to families through social media and the Department of Education has a section of its COVID-19 page dedicated to social and emotional resources. Clemens has some advice to help families cope.
“We have to distract our brain when we have those worries,” said Clemens. “If it’s just taking deep breaths, taking a walk, playing with our pets, read a book, whatever it is we have to keep doing that.”
Clemens also sees a silver lining in those 35 additional elementary school counselors Mesa Public Schools hired earlier this school year.
“We have that support now and I feel for those districts that don’t,” she said.