School districts throughout New York State are struggling with a shortage of teachers; specifically, school counselors. This is one of the main reasons mental health classes are being added in schools this year, but experts claim counselors are still needed.
“It’s a hard field. There is a shortage of counselors period,” said Melanie Funchess, the Director of Community Engagement for the Mental Health Association of Rochester.
A shortage indeed. The national ratio of students to counselors is 500 to 1. Funchess says there needs to be support for not only students, but the counselors and social workers as well.
“It’s not the highest paid work. It’s “heart”-work. The nature of the work sometimes grinds people out,” she explained.
As a solution, New York State is now requiring mental health to be taught in schools. So now, school staff members can understand mental health better, but also be a support system. The mental health association; however, says counselors (and social workers) are still needed for the one-on-one student work.
“To help their social, emotional development and balance that wit their academic needs and skills to move them to be able to graduate as whole -well rounded people,” said Funchess.
Some districts in NYS are having school counselor shortages, but right here at East High, they have ten counselors in this building alone.’
“We also have 7 social workers across the building that work to support our students,” said Dr. Lia Festenstein, Director of Special Programming for East High School.
Dr. Lia Festenstein, with East High School, says they’ve made access to counselors a priority.
“They can just go to their counselor’s office between classes. Say, “I’m having a problem, I need to discuss this with you,’ and another way we have is to help adults make referrals,” said Festenstein.
New York State is the first state in the country to teach mental health in schools. Advocates; however, chime that a course does not replace the positive developmental health a counselor provides.
Locally, schools like Brighton, East Rochester and RCSD have met their quota for counselors, but they are open to having more mental health staff available.