Each Day a New Challenge for School Counselors

Feb. 12, 2013 ~ Simply defined, school counseling is about helping students gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to achieve success in school and life. National School Counseling Week, Feb. 4-8, celebrated those who serve as counselors for the nearly 29,000 students in Olathe Public Schools.

Karen Thompson, counselor at Ravenwood Elementary School, was the district's nominee and a state semi-finalist for the Kansas School Counselor Association's 2012-13 Counselor of the Year Award. She is one of 30 elementary school counselors in the district.

"We counselors have the privilege of interacting with thousands of children and hundreds of staff and community members every day," Thompson said. "One of our passions is to address school climate, which includes social skills in all shapes and sizes: respect for others, positive relationship building, bullying prevention, and behaviors for successful learning."

Anti-bullying became a focus this year with the district's involvement in the Rachel's Challenge program, but there are many other ways school counselors promote respect for all.

  • Teaching the "Steps to Respect" curriculum for second- through fifth-grade students
  • Conducting food, book and clothing drives, etc. as ways to involve the community in kindness programs
  • Using read-aloud books and role-playing to help kindergarten and first-grade students understand respect and dignity
  • Coaching parents on helping their children build healthy relationships with others

"We model and teach active listening, respectful problem solving, enthusiasm for the gifts and talents of others (diversity), and kindness," Thompson said. "All of these activities help our elementary school communities prevent bullying behavior and practice active caring."

Janet Bachnick, counselor at Oregon Trail Middle School for the past six years and nine years prior at Olathe North High School, said the role of a secondary school counselor ranges from helping students think about their future, to dealing with everyday dramas.

"At the high school level, students are ready to think about their future. In the middle school it's much more about themselves and friends," she said. "At both levels, social media has changed the face of counseling. There are a lot more drama issues involved with social media, Facebook and texting."

In middle school, counselors help students use online career investigation tools to get feedback on about a dozen careers they might not have realized they have an interest in, Bachnick said.

"One of the big things we do is the eighth-grade career expo in the fall," she added. "More than 2,000 eighth-graders visit approximately 150 career representatives and practice early job skills like shaking hands, asking questions, and writing a follow-up thank you note. They also get some early exposure to the district's 21st Century High School Programs."

This time of year, middle school counselors are arranging transitional activities for fifth-graders who will move to middle school next year, and working with their area high school to make eighth-graders aware of options they'll have next year.

"No two days are ever alike," Bachnick said. "That's what makes counseling such an exciting profession to be in."

Counselor reads to students Ravenwood Elementary School counselor Karen Thompson reads to second-graders as part of a lesson on bullying.
Students conduct food drive Fifth-graders at Ravenwood Elementary helped organize a food drive as a way to show kindness for others.
Counselor talks with students School counselor Karen Thompson talks with students about strategies for reporting bullying.
Student works on lesson about respect

A Ravenwood third-grade student works on her “Steps to Respect” lesson.

Submitted photos