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Arizona student counselor crisis: Large deficit of counselors leave students without help

Posted at 9:40 PM, May 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-03 11:57:01-04

Educators are calling the desperate need for more school counselors a crisis inside Arizona schools.

School counselors are called the first line of defense for our children, handling everything from students suffering from mental illness to trauma, to college and career counseling.

Yesenia Zuniga, a senior at Casa Grande Union High School, was excited to head to her dream school, San Francisco State University. But Zuniga soon found out otherwise.

"They told me, 'Well, sorry. Your application is going to be denied because we don't see that your second year foreign language is completed,'" Zuniga said. "I was so shocked. I started crying actually."

Zuniga says she had met with her counselor several times to discuss her college preparations, but doesn't feel like she got any advice.

School counselor Janine Menard is familiar with Zuniga's sentiment, citing a desperate need for more school counselors across Arizona, calling it a "crisis."

The American Association of School Counselors recommends schools have one counselor for every 250 students. The current nationwide average is 450 students per counselor.

Arizona is at such a deficit, that it is currently at 903 students per counselor.

"It also means students are falling through the cracks. There's no way you can reach every single student when you have that many students," according to Menard.

Some of the student stories Menard deals with are haunting. "I've had a 6th grader who got raped and got pregnant and had her baby in 7th grade."

But the worst stories are losing a child to suicide.

The stories about counselors dealing with student suicides are tragic, and it's happened dozens of times in many school districts.

"It absolutely broke my heart when I went to her funeral. I just wept over her coffin."

Governor Doug Ducey is responding to this school crisis by pledging $6 million over the next two years to hire more school counselors. He has pledged even more money to hire school resource officers.

"It's a good start," Menard said, but she estimates it'll take more than $80 million to achieve industry recommended standards. "It is the first time we are seeing this, and we want to thank the Governor. We appreciate that."

Staff with Governor Ducey's office say this new money it is expected to decrease the student to counselor ratio by about 17 percent. Menard said that could mean about 750 students per counselor.

Menard hoped the Governor's staff would consider looking into giving districts money for counselors and school resource officers, but then letting local districts decide whether to spend it on officers or counselors, based on their needs.

While more counselors will definitely help them reach out to more students, Zuniga says she still wanted to warn her peers at other schools to take college prep decisions into their own hands.

"I just wonder how many times has this happened before me?" she questioned.

ABC15 reached out to the Casa Grande Union High School for a comment. School Superintendent Steve Bebee says this should never have happened, and the district is now working with all of their counseling teams to make sure every student who aspires to go to college gets the right guidance.