Butler County school counselors supporting students in new ways during coronavirus shutdown

The shutdown of all Ohio schools has forced school counselors to scramble to find ways to continue to advise and emotionally support students they used to work with face-to-face during the school day. Area counselors say they are using a variety of digital communication tools to try and maintain their supportive relationships with students isolated at home due to the coronavirus. (File Photo AJC/Journal-News)
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The shutdown of all Ohio schools has forced school counselors to scramble to find ways to continue to advise and emotionally support students they used to work with face-to-face during the school day. Area counselors say they are using a variety of digital communication tools to try and maintain their supportive relationships with students isolated at home due to the coronavirus. (File Photo AJC/Journal-News)

Area school counselors are trying to keep the lines of communication and emotional support open to home-bound students, but it’s not easy, they say.

High school and elementary counselors in Butler and Warren counties say they are using digital tools at their disposal as they strive to remain in touch with students who often relied on their advice, guidance and reassurance during earlier times much-less stressful than the current coronavirus shutdowns.

But digital interactions are poor substitute for face-to-face counseling, they say.

“School counselors at every level are used to talking with students face to face, seeing their nonverbal language, saying to them in the hallways, ‘Hey, how’s your day going?’ or ‘Is everything ok today?’” said says Fairfield Schools Guidance Counselor Karen Albrecht.

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“Seeing our students to let them know we are here for them socially, emotionally, and academically is our job, and when we can’t see our students in person, we have to be creative and make ourselves available to them in other ways.”

Veteran Kings High School Counselor, Heidi Murray said “communication is always different when not face to face or even just in person.”

“So much of our response is based on body language, tone, general appearance of a student in our office. More practically though, our biggest concern is access. We want to make sure that students still have access to us in a confidential and timely manner,” Murray said.

“We know we have to get creative, make the best use of technology we can and purposefully check in since we won’t have the casual encounters with students in the halls, lunch room and elsewhere.”

Due to periodic budget cuts at many school district, the ranks of school counselors have been thinned in the last decade, adding to their already sizable work load, which also includes academic counseling and college and other post-secondary advice and research. High school seniors are especially reliant on counselors and their normally stressful final half of their final year in school is now made all the more so.

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“Seniors are incredibly disappointed about the potential of missing those once-in-a-lifetime milestones - final concerts, senior nights, prom, baccalaureate, graduation,” said Murray, who added the anxieties among seniors and all students are on the rise.

“And then there are the worries about being able to really learn or earn their usual grades in a very different setting (learning from home). They, too, want to see their teachers and ask questions. Like us, they are concerned about figuring it out. It’s the unknown that is causing anxiety, I believe.”

Younger students are exhibiting similar concerns, said Audrey Young, counselor at Lakota’s Freedom Elementary School.

“Most students and families are reporting fear over the COVID-19, students and parents are overwhelmed balancing academics remotely but have shared the positives support from teachers and the district,” Young said.

“Students are going through a grief process of missing routines, teachers and friends. Our job is to support students and families through this time.”

For school parents and teens seeking academic and other counseling help, area school districts have links not only to their school counselors but also to a variety of counseling and mental health services and agencies listed on their main school system websites.

Regardless, counseling from afar as society strives for safer social isolation is a daunting task, said Young, and is also tough on the counselors.

“The main challenge is not being able to be in person with students. Getting a good read on a child’s mental health happens in person,” she said. “Personally, I miss seeing our students, to the point of sadness.”

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