Guidance chief lists challenges Students face problems that keep them from learning

'It's a reflection of society'

School staff helps children deal with serious difficulties

March 11, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

When acting guidance chief Diane Finch told Anne Arundel County school board members last night that today's guidance counselors have "more challenging" roles than ever before, she backed it up with a virtual kaleidoscope of serious issues schools must deal with daily.

On the surface, many of the issues seem to have little to do with learning arithmetic. But they prevent students from learning.

"Today students come to us, they are not so shiny," Finch said, fingering a bowl of pennies, some shiny, some dull. "They come to us with problems."

Those problems -- from jailed parents to poverty so severe that barely clothed children dwell in shanties -- are so overwhelming that children cannot focus on classroom work, Finch said.

She said school counselors commonly have to start the ball rolling to get what outsiders would consider social service help for the children.

School board members had called for the workshop several months ago in an effort to learn exactly what it is the system's more than 180 school counselors do.

They heard about an alphabet soup of services in such fields as parent education and computer skills for parents. They heard that while many people think of counseling as giving advice on careers and college, elementary school counselors deal with an entirely different set of issues.

Board members perused a 3-inch-thick folder that contained a list of some of those issues -- depression, divorce, bereavement and how to get along with others.

Some other statistics presented to the board were startling: In the 1995-1996 school year, 445 elementary school children were reported by officials to have been abused or neglected, and 154 children in grades five and under tried to kill themselves.

"It's a reflection of society. Kids come to school now with so many needs, emotional and basic needs, that are not fulfilled at home," said Nancy Mann, county schools director of instruction.

On one topic after the next, from discipline to low grades, board members cross-examined Finch on whether counselors were intervening frequently enough and early enough.

They focused on the troubled middle schools, where children are having serious discipline problems and go on to high school, where one-third of them cannot maintain a 2.0, or C, average.

"If we don't direct our efforts to solving our middle school problems, we are just wasting our time," said board member Michael J. McNelly of Dunkirk, who advocated more work with troubled students in elementary schools.

Listening to counselors describe the way they document their work, board member Joseph H. Foster called for a review to determine whether all the paperwork is necessary.

"A pet peeve of mine is the amount of time counselors spend on noncounseling," Foster said to applause from about 80 counselors in the Board of Education meeting room. He said he wanted the time to be used to work with students, "not on filling out bubble charts."

Pub Date: 3/11/97

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