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Counselors find ways to connect virtually

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From creating a calming room online to making a video honoring seniors’ scholarships, school counselors may be supporting students from a distance, but their work remains important.

“Counselors are so vital to the school community,” said Tanis Henderson, a counselor at Deer River High School and the president-elect of the Minnesota School Counselors Association. “We blend the academics, career- and college-readiness, mental health support and relationship building.”

The MSCA has created a Facebook group and email listserv to connect counselors across the state to share resources and ideas on how to do their work in a distance learning environment.
“We’re finding that balance of providing them support and honoring where the kids are at,” said Henderson. “Anything we provide should be a good extra to their work they are doing with their classroom teachers.”

Henderson and her colleague, Lael Storlie, in Deer River have created grade-level counseling groups on Schoology, and are pushing out weekly stress management tools online and in paper form for those who need it.

“We do web or telephone appointments with students who need it,” said Storlie. “And it’s nice we can refer them back to resources online they can use.”

Storlie is also working with fifth grade students who would normally be having in-person sixth grade orientation as they prepare to move into a new school building next year.

“These points of transition always weigh on counselors,” she said.

Henderson is also working on transitions for graduating seniors.

“We are doing our senior exit meetings over WebEx,” she said. “Our students are still getting the same services, but it’s not the same.”

Elementary-level counselors are also getting creative to meet students’ needs.

Kayla Kujak, a counselor at Gibbs Elementary in Rochester, has created online spaces for students and families to use whenever they need it.

“I have an online calming room with different activities and other resources,” she said.
She also posts an activity each week with some discussion questions.

Kayla Kujak’s online calming room for her students at Gibbs Elementary in Rochester features sounds and visuals, guided practice and opportunities to refocus.

Kujak is still meeting with the 25 kids she had been working with before distance learning began via Google Meet, where she can talk with them about what’s going well and what they need help with.

Kujak is also working with classroom teachers and shares a lesson with them each week on social-emotional learning.

The Rochester School District is also filming lessons to be shown on local TV stations, including one featuring Kujak and another counselor talking about making positive choices.

The pandemic has shown the importance of counselors and the shortage of them in our state, said Henderson.

“There are so many students and not as many counselors as we would like to see,” she said.

“The students’ needs don’t go away if there isn’t a counselor in the building,” Storlie said.

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