Less than five minutes into an interview with Crown Point High School guidance counselors Ami Marcinek and Lauren Sandor, there was a knock at the door. Senior students were stopping by on the last day of school to thank both of them for their help. “This really is one of the most rewarding jobs I think there is,” Marcinek said. “We are invested in making sure our students succeed.”
Not everyone understands the role of a guidance counselor, and the role can be somewhat different depending on the age of students. At Crown Point Schools, counselors in grades K-12 are tasked with helping students succeed academically and socially. They all agree that there is no such thing as a “normal day” in their jobs, but their work centers around helping students transition to new situations, proactively providing guidance for social and emotional well-being, and collaborating with parents and colleagues.
No matter which students a counselor works with, they lead conversations and activities to help students successfully transition from one stage of school to the next. As elementary students arrive in kindergarten, counselors help them acclimate to school. By fifth grade, they’re preparing students to move to middle school. “Everything we do can have a positive impact on the academic setting. We’re always advocating for students,” Alicia Bellamy (MacArthur Elementary) said.
In 6th grade, the process begins again - transitioning pre-adolescent students to a new environment and then preparing them for high school two years later. “I would say middle school is one of the harder age groups,” Josie Werhowatz (Taft Middle School) said. “Students are on the cusp of developing an identity at this time, and when you combine that with academic rigor, teen hormones, and changes among friends, it can feel like a big jump from elementary school.”
Before students arrive at CPHS, middle school counselors have already started leading discussions and activities about career exploration. They’ve also been working with students to improve their social skills. “I led a friendship group for sixth graders this year,” Andrea Day (Col. Wheeler Middle School) said. “We focus on skills that I hope they can grow and take with them into high school a couple of years from now.”
Once students enter the 9th grade, the social help provided through counselors is combined with academic and career guidance as students prepare to graduate - the ultimate transition from school. “One minute we could be doing course schedules and credit checks and the next we might have students who need emotional support,” Sandor said. “That’s one of the big misconceptions about our jobs, that we’re sitting around sort of waiting for issues. We do a lot of proactive work because even though our students are older, they’re still students.”
Counseling in the 21st Century
School counselors in Indiana must have a specialized license through the Indiana Department of Education, which requires a minimum of a Master’s degree. CPCSC counselors use standards from the Indiana Department of Education and the American School Counseling Association. The standards are closely related to Crown Point Community School Corporation’s 6 C’s - college, career, citizenship, culture, courage, and creativity - as well as the Bulldog Blueprint, a framework for student success used at both Taft and Colonel Wheeler Middle Schools.
“We use the Bulldog Blueprint to guide conversations with our students a lot,” Day said. “It’s a great way for us to continue working with the foundations our students had in elementary school. We talk about ways to be kind and respectful because we want them to know all those things apply in middle school, too.”
While counselors help students during the school day, there is a misconception that counselors are also mental health providers or therapists. “Mental health specialists provide treatment plans or diagnose patients, which is not our role,” Bailey Lauritzen (Solon Elementary) said. “We’re the support at school. What does a student need to perform academically and have a better experience while they are here? We are focused on solutions that get students back to class and moving forward. An outside mental health specialist is for more long-term solutions.”
“I think many people may not understand the role of a school counselor in a 21st century school because it is so different from when we were in school,” Bob Eghbali (Taft Middle School) said. “I think that’s because a lot has changed regarding conversations of students’ mental and emotional health, which is a good thing.”
Colleague, Community & Parent Partnerships
Although school counselors are not mental health professionals, CPCSC counselors have colleagues and partnerships that help them serve students when issues arise. In the last two years, the district has added social workers to the student support team. Partnerships with local agencies like Crown Counseling and Pillars of Wellness provide services both during and outside of school.
“Our partnership with Crown Counseling has been huge,” Day said. “We partner with parents to make referrals when our students need more assistance than what we can provide in our roles here at school.”
Marcinek noted that social workers at CPHS are part of a well-rounded toolbox for helping students. “We refer students to a social worker when they’re dealing with something outside of our wheelhouse or something more long-term. And the social workers are part of our team, so we constantly check in with them as well as our grad coaches. There are a lot of people on our team making sure we get students across the finish line.”
Every CPCSC counselor interviewed agreed that the most important partnership they have is with parents. “I have a lot of parents who have questions about how to help their children,” Lauritzen said. “I think if there is one thing I could encourage parents to do, it would be to make sure they’re also taking care of themselves. Don’t forget to focus on your own well-being and have open, honest conversations with your kids. A lot will fall into place after that.”
Even though every day is different, CPCSC counselors all returned to the same word to describe their role: advocate. “By far the number one job of counselors is to be an advocate for our students,” Bellamy said. “It doesn’t matter what we are dealing with, the bottom line is that I’m here for your kid. Nothing changes that.”