Duties range from comfort to careers
SIKESTON -- It's been a challenging school year for the counselors of the Sikeston Public Schools.
In August the death of Lee Hunter Elementary student Kristen Harris stunned the students, staff and faculty of Sikeston Public Schools, as well as the community.
All Sikeston Public Schools counselors were on hand to help the students -- and faculty -- cope with the death of the 6-year-old girl.
Morehouse Elementary Counselor Marti Koch said in the 17 years she has worked in the profession, it was the biggest challenge she and her colleagues had ever faced.
Four children at Morehouse Elementary witnessed the accident. School counselors came in and went around the classrooms talking to the students, and Koch stayed with the four kids, talking and comforting them.
"In a situation like that, rumors can fly and all information can be distorted. So what we did was tell the facts so everybody just knew the facts," Koch said.
Koch read books dealing with death to the children to help them understand. "Death is something we all have to face. It's just usually not the way Kristen died," Koch said.
Since Kristen's death, Koch has tried to touch base with the kids who witnessed the accident as well as students who were relatives of the little girl.
This week Sikeston Public Schools counselors are being recognized for not only answering their call of duty when tragedy like Kristen's death strikes, but for their daily tasks and tremendous impact they can have in helping students achieve school success and plan for a career.
Sikeston Superintendent Steve Borgsmiller recently signed into proclamation declaring this week National School Counseling Week for Sikeston Public Schools, which is a first for the district.
In the proclamation, Borgsmiller cited school counselors for being actively engaged in helping students examine their abilities, strengths, interests and talents; for working in a partnership with parents as they encounter the challenges of raising children in today's world; for focusing on a working with teachers and other educators to provide an educational system where students can realized their potential and set healthy, realistic and optimistic aspirations for themselves.
For example, Morehouse has a fight-free program. "We encourage the kids to solve their differences by talking out their problems rather than with their fists," Koch explained.
Each class has a fight-free flag that hangs outside their room. If students can go 10 days without a physical fight, they get ten minutes of extra recess time. If they go 20 days without fighting, then they get 20 extra minutes of recess. A soda is the reward when students can go 30 days without fighting, and if they can make it 40 days, they win a pizza party.
If students do fight, those involved have to take their classroom's flag down and explain to their class why it was taken down, Koch said. Then they have to explain it the principal.
Apparently the program is working.
"The neat thing is that teachers have witnessed or heard other students who were starting to bicker or something when another student said, 'Wait a minute. Let's talk about this.' And I think that's so cool," Koch said.
More than 14,000 school counselors nationwide will participate in the week's festivities. Many counselors are planning special days and special treats for the children and faculty during the week.
Kindness week will be observed at Southeast, Southwest and Lee Hunter Elementary. Students will receive Kindness Coupons when they are observed doing kind deeds. These kind deeds will be further rewarded at a special luncheon on Feb. 7. Morehouse Elementary will celebrate the week with "Smile Day," "Sweet Treat Day" and "Hug Therapy Day."
Professional school counselors are certified, experienced educators with a master's degree in guidance and counseling. The combination of their training and experience makes them an integral part of the total educational program.
Every day school counselors work with programs that address the personal/social, academic and career needs of all students, Brenda Melton, ASCA president, said in a statement. Their ultimate goal is to enable all students to achieve success in school and to become responsible and productive members of our society, she said.
"I think it's important to get along with others and to care about others' feelings and to learn to cooperate with other people," Koch said. "Kids also need someone to talk to when they're excited or upset and need a safe place."