My impression of school counselling has certainly evolved. It did not have a great first impression. For the first half of my career I worked in a rural K to 12 school. School counsellors were mythical creatures similar to teacher librarians and lab technicians. I saw “school counselling” as something that was done by the vice-principal in addition to his other tasks. He “counselled” the students on which courses to put in their schedules in order to graduate. Meeting the entrance requirements of a post-secondary program was a wonderful bonus.
My understanding grew when I became the vice-principal. I found a copy of the Alberta Education publication of “Building a Comprehensive School Guidance and Counselling Program” released in 1995. On page 35, it lists the three key issues facing school counsellors: promoting academic growth skills, encouraging positive student transitions, and developing positive interpersonal relationships. As a new school administrator, I tried to help students plan their academic course loads. I worked to help students develop better interpersonal skills when they were sent to me for disciplinary actions.
A side effect of disciplining students that I began to realize is that every one of them had a back-story. I began to hear the terms such as “anxiety,” “depression,” “anger issues” and “stress.” While I was initially overwhelmed, I was intrigued about this vast field of counselling. I realized I was allowed into a privileged place to help guide these students to find their strengths. At that point came the wonderful opportunity I still get to work in today. I became the principal at Vermilion Outreach School. Outreach schools are alternative schools set up to “meet the needs of students who either cannot or will not pursue their education in traditional high schools” (from the Outreach Program Handbook, 2009, Alberta Education, pg. 1). Many people describe it as a school for “those” kids with addictions, criminal records or violent pasts.
Certainly, every school has a tremendous variety of individuals each needing different types and amounts of support. Working in an alternative school setting has provided a wonderful place to learn more about mental health and supporting youth. I hope to explore various aspects of school counselling and the field itself from this viewpoint. There is a strong need to advocate for trained school counsellors. Hopefully, I can hear from others about their experiences.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA