‘Long time coming,’ Expert says pandemic sheds spotlight on the need for more counselors in Oklahoma schools

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – From college prep and planning class schedules, to helping with social-emotional learning and mental health needs, school counselors have a lot on their plate. But that load could be lessened, pending approval of the State Board of Education’s proposed budget. 

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said they have requested funding to bring in more school counselors to the state for the third year. This time around, they have proposed the money over a three year period. $54,534,857.34 in total to hire 1051 new counselors. The first year’s allotment of just over $18 million to bring in 350 of them. 

“We understand that many, many of our important services were cut from our agency, but across the state as well, and our legislators have had to make very difficult decisions,” said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. “We all know that some of our goals are not going to be achieved in one year. It is going to take a multi-year approach, and our budget reflects that.”

‘Long time coming,’ Expert says pandemic sheds spotlight on the need for more counselors in Oklahoma schools (Photo: KFOR)

The American School Counselor Association recommends one counselor for every 250 students.

Lincoln Elementary School counselor, Missy Smith, serves about 270 students, what she says is a very manageable number. But that’s not always the case for other counselors in Oklahoma schools.

“There’s some schools that have 700 kids on their caseload, you know, even more than that in other areas,” said Smith. “They can’t see all of those kids, and that is where that number needs to increase, because it’s an issue of equity.”

Smith, like many Oklahoma school counselors, does both admin tasks as well as social-emotional work. The latter being especially important in our current climate.

“I teach kids how to recognize emotions in their bodies, how to cope with those emotions, what is a safe friendship, what are traits of a good, healthy relationship with somebody else,” said Smith. “The academic piece is so important, but without the social-emotional learning, it’s so much harder to learn and do what’s expected of you in the classroom.”

But Smith said these issues were present even before the pandemic. 

“This has been a long time coming, and hopefully the pandemic is bringing light to this issue even more so,” said Smith. “We’re seeing anxiety cases skyrocket in kids, largely because their parents are feeling anxious, too. There are a lot of things right now that we’re experiencing to a greater degree because of the pandemic, but even in general it was increasing beforehand.”

You can view the Oklahoma State Board of Education’s budget request here.

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