All six public elementary schools in Jennings County employ a full-time guidance counselor. That’s important because of the problems students sometimes bring from home to the classroom, according to the elementary guidance director for the Jennings County School Corp.
Rita Hurley said, “In a figurative sense, a lot of kids come to school carrying loads of garbage.”
Their problems are varied, including verbal or physical abuse, an imprisoned parent or a family involved in illegal drugs, she added.
When negative influences lead to harmful behavior, guidance counselors must track down the source and develop strategies or interventions to minimize their impact on the child’s education, Hurley said.
This is National School Counselors Week, an appropriate time for Jennings County residents to understand the growing role of counselors in the lives of the county’s 2,600 elementary students, said Terry Sargent, superintendent of Jennings County School Corp.
“When older adults think of counselors when they went to school, they thought of the guidance counselor at the front office. You didn’t see too many in elementary schools back them. But we recognized a number of years ago the importance of having counselors for all schools,” Sargent said.
Jennings County Middle School has two counselors and Jennings County High School four, he added.
“Their role is particular critical, especially at the elementary school level. Family issues are more and more of a concern,” Sargent said.
In the past, family issues typically were handed within the family, Sargent said. Now, young children often are looking for someone to talk to about whatever issue is going on in their lives, he added.
“We’re kind of a combination of attendance officer, career consultant, crisis intervention counselor, social worker and community resource person,” Hurley said.
While the counselor handles all reports of suspected abuse, Hurley added that crisis intervention often is connected to a family’s lack of financial resources. She said her staff spends a considerable amount of time linking homeless families with community resources.
Hurley added the counselors also have connected many low-income parents with the “Getting Ahead in a Getting By World” classes offered through the Jennings County United Way. Many of those classes are held at North Vernon Elementary School, the corporation’s largest grade school with 780 students, in order to provide parents with a comfortable setting.
The advice of the counselors also is frequently sought by parents who feel they have nobody to turn to when their child displays bizarre or unusual behavior, according to Hurley.
Another job of counselors is to get students to understand the importance of education as it relates to their futures, Hurley said.
In Jennings County, students take career interest inventories three times from kindergarten through sixth grade. Hurley said those inventories are helpful not only to determine how values and ambitions change over time but also to help students focus on goals.
Elementary counselors meet with students individually, in small groups and through monthly classroom guidance lessons, Hurley said. Topics covered in the counseling curriculum include study skills, peer relationships, responsibility, decision-making, goal-setting, conflict resolution skills, career education and diversity.
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