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Your Advocacy Matters, for Students and Our Profession

By John Casey | March 2023

Recently, I met with a student who shared some of the difficulties she was having at school. As I often do, I thanked her for trusting me enough to share what was bothering her. She smiled and said, “My mom told me that when she was a student here, you helped to keep her out of an alternative school.”

This is my 28th year at my school. It’s not the first time a student has shared something said about me by a parent, an uncle or an aunt who was a student during my time here. I am grateful that these shared memories have been almost always positive, but this one bothered me.

When this child’s mother was a student, I held the “title” of school counselor. In reality, I was the special education case manager for more than 165 students with IEPs and 504 plans. I facilitated meetings and managed an endless amount of paperwork. For the remaining 800 or so students, I did little more than assist with high school applications and make referrals to outside agencies. I had little time to provide tier 1 or tier 2 interventions, and the tier 3 interventions I provided were almost entirely in the social/emotional domain. It was crisis management – important work – but it wasn’t school counseling. I may have kept students from landing in an alternative school, but I was doing little to help them explore and prepare for the future.

Fortunately for me and my school, counselors in our district advocated for a change. Over the course of several years, tasks like case management were slowly removed, and in 2019 it was written into our contract that “a principal shall assign duties to the counselor that are consistent with . . . the recommendations of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA).” I am now available to all the students in our building. I provide tier 1 lessons in different classrooms each day. I run small-group interventions to address academic and social/emotional concerns, and I schedule tier 3 interventions with students, parents and teachers to prevent crises and not just respond to them.

Advocacy works. It makes a difference. It is an important part of the ASCA definition of the role of a school counselor: “They lead, advocate and collaborate to promote equity and access for all students.”

As a member of ISCA, I have learned of many challenges school counselors face in Illinois, the most pressing of which is caseload size. In too many places, individual school counselors are trying to implement a comprehensive school counseling program to an entire district by themselves. Many have successfully advocated for their districts to open more positions. However, many of these positions remain unfilled, because an even greater challenge is developing. While the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 10 percent growth in school counseling positions over the next 10 years, school counselor preparation programs in Illinois are graduating a smaller number of school counselors.

Becoming a school counselor is financially challenging. The 2016 CACREP Standards increased the number of semester hours required for a school counseling degree to 60. Many programs in Illinois have made this change. Completing a masters in school counseling now takes a candidate three years, and in most cases the final year of internship is unpaid.

The district I work for recently announced that next year, stipends will be provided to school counseling interns. It is an exciting offer to expand the profession in our district, but one that few districts can provide. This is a time of crisis. We need to lead, advocate and collaborate to promote equity and access to school counselors for all students across the state.

Your ISCA Advocacy committee is working to address this shortage, but needs your help. Please take time to reach out to your representatives in the state legislature and share your concerns about shortages in the profession and the impact on students. Ask for legislation that supports graduate students in school counseling (scholarships, loan forgiveness and stipends for internships). Highlight the joy and satisfaction you receive from being a school counselor and encourage others to consider joining you in this amazing profession!

John Casey is a school counselor, a member of the ISCA Board of Directors and co-chair of the ISCA Advocacy Committee.