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Opinion: A Discussion of TASD Guidance

April 13, 2021

The piece on the left was written by a TAHS senior and was submitted to the Eagle Eye for publication.  After meeting with the high school counselor, the student and counselor both agreed that for clarification they could both share their thoughts on this important topic and publish them in the Eagle Eye for students and the community to consider.

The article on the left is based on the student’s interviews, and the article on the right is the response of one of the high school counselors.

Opinion: Student Concerns

*Disclaimer: All names and identities will remain anonymous. *Data was checked for voting from different accounts, non-Tyrone voters, and voting in both polls. Students do not know about the policies and processes of the Guidance Office; this should be kept in mind while reading.

I was curious to know what people who followed me on social media and went to Tyrone Area School District thought of the guidance services in the school district. I sent out a poll on my Instagram and Facebook and asked kids to rate their experience, current or past as negative or positive.

After completion and analysis*, it was found that out of 100 people, 60 of Tyrone Area Middle/High School students and alumni viewed the TASD guidance program negatively.

In order to get an understanding of this result, I randomly selected eight people (four from each side) and asked them these questions:

What is one thing (or several) that you appreciate about our guidance office/counselors/activities, etc?

What is one thing you do not like, or believe needs to be changed? (If experiences are included please refrain from using hearsay).

What suggestions do you have (if any) for our staff?

Results were rather homogenous. For the first question, students agreed that the guidance staff tried to make students feel appreciated and were there to help with college decisions.

For the second response, all but one interviewed believed that the space doesn’t feel open enough for students. Though it is a judgement-free zone, many still feel it is not as safe as it could be.

Several students wrote about issues with not being able to see a faculty member in a moment of need and having to go home to where the problem was instead.

Others mentioned how they’ve only experienced this with simple issue such as a schedule change but noted that this could cause issues with students having a crisis.

Many students also admitted that their negative experiences stemmed from the middle school and their guidance program and not the high school.

Another popular point from both sides was Aevidum, a student group created to give kids another outlet to reach out to and talk to. It has been compared to a popularity contest with several feeling that it creates an uncomfortable environment and kids don’t reach out to any of the kids. Another common agreement that the club in itself did not do enough activities to reach out to students.

All students agreed they want to see the guidance space thrive. Every student came up with their own solution, all similar in thought, in order to support and possibly help a future student find help.

The one suggestion all students came up with was for the staff to be more communicative with the students. Whether through posters, emails, announcements, or social media students wanted to see more involvement in the school. Many agreed that in the current situation, it is difficult to get information to the public and that we are still tackling with ways to adapt.

One alum cited that both the elementary and middle school have two guidance counselors, and in the middle school there is both a female and a male option for students. Many of these students mentioned how, at no fault of guidance, other students might prefer to talk to someone of the same sex, or different sex with the inclusion of a male counselor.

Several students along with the same alum, said that Aevidum should be more inclusive and representative of the student body. And that there should be more children with experience in mental health issues (with their consent).

Appreciation and gratitude for all staff in the guidance and upper levels were expressed by many for everything they had done to help them individually.

At the end of the day, we cannot force students to go to counseling, and we cannot make them reach out to kids in Aevidum, but together we can improve the opinion and mindset that surrounds the guidance office together as a community and make others feel safe in it.

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Opinion: Guidance Department Response

When I decided to become a school counselor, I had one overarching goal: to help and positively impact as many students as I can in one school day.  Providing social/emotional, academic and career guidance to students is just the tip of the iceberg in a large list of job duties.

To say this job is a challenge some days is an understatement.

Trying to meet the ever-changing needs of all students in grades 10-12 is a large undertaking, and this is especially true during a COVID school year.

Student issues are triaged and students in crisis or visually distressed are given top priority and would never leave school without being seen by a counselor.  If I am tied up with another student or in a mandatory weekly meeting, students are given the option to meet with the school social worker.

If a student prefers a male counselor, Mr. Kimberlin from the middle school would be more than willing to schedule a time to talk.  Although it is not clear to me what is meant by the guidance office not being safe, especially when it is stated the office is indeed “judgment-free,”I can state without a doubt that I have each and every students’ best interest at heart and work hard to make coming to guidance for help a positive experience for all.

I also would like to point out referrals to the guidance office happen in many different ways.

A student can self-refer by presenting to the office, a friend or family member can refer, or a teacher can refer.  Committees such as Project Safeguard generate many face-to-face contacts for students by guidance.  For instance, if a student has poor grades, attendance, hygiene, home life, and/or peer conflict they are seen for an individual session. I also work hard to identify students who may look or act in a concerning way and touch base with them to offer assistance. Emailing students regularly to check-in is also a tool that has become more readily used this school year.  Also, in a “regular” school year various weekly support groups are run by guidance.

Aevidum has been an active club at TAHS since 2013.  The purpose of the club is to assist in the creation of a culture of students and adults that care for the wellbeing of each other and have each other’s backs.  This is done through various projects each school year such as positive post-it note campaign, bathroom toiletries project, suicide prevention walks, presentations in advisory classes, and many more events that are too lengthy to list.

Every year 50-60 students request to be in Aevidum which is obviously an unmanageable number for one advisor, so it is necessary to have a process to reduce the number.

In order to NOT be accused of favoritism or unfair selection, group members with seniority assist in interviewing and ranking students who would be a good fit based on their answers to carefully worded questions.  In addition, if I or a current member has knowledge that an individual does not represent the group initiatives well, they will not be chosen. This would potentially include incidents of bullying or other significant school discipline.

Students are not, however, rejected for mental health concerns, family or peer issues, or certainly not for being “unpopular” as these qualities may assist them in understanding and relating to the overall student population.  I can personally attest the members of the group are involved because they care about others and have a strong desire to make the school a better place.  Currently, a pamphlet and presentation were released to include suicide warning signs, stress management techniques, and contact numbers for how to find help, whether it be the crisis center or outpatient counseling.

To sum up. the Guidance Office has a welcoming open-door policy that is clearly communicated at the student orientation meetings at the beginning of the school year and each and every time a student leaves my presence.  I remind them they are welcome to come back anytime.

I want students to be extremely comfortable seeking our guidance services, after all, that is why I am here!

 

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