by Morgan Jasin, School Counselor
How do school counselors help students in a cyber school? That's a question I often get from friends and family, and with all the misconceptions about cyber school students, it needs answered.
Before we jump into all of that, it's important to note that School Counselors at PA Distance Learning are certified counselors. That means we all have a Master’s Degree in School Counseling from an accredited University.
The tools we have acquired through our education programs allow us to support students in three primary areas: Academic, Personal/Social and Career.
So, we sort of do it all: we support a child’s well-being as a whole.
A Typical (or Atypical) Day
So what does a typical day for a school counselor in cyber school look like?
When you walk past our office, it may not look like much, but there's a world you'll never know behind the scenes. This is because we are bound by confidentiality.
We have to let our students know that they can trust us with their privacy. That's the center of all we do.
Every day is different. Some mornings are calm. We can check our emails, follow up with students that need support, return calls, and prepare guidance lessons.
Other mornings, as soon as we sit down, we are facing a crisis situation.
A parent calls us at 7:43 AM because their family lost a loved one last night in a tragic situation. We help families cope with grief and loss and provide them with counseling resources within their community.
We help students manage their stress and anxiety because their internet went out for the third time this month because Mom can’t afford to pay the bills, even with working two jobs.
Some of our students live in small rural towns where high speed internet is difficult to maintain. No internet = no school in the cyber setting. This causes stress overload for some of our kids. It is the responsibility of the school counselor to help these students emotionally.
We help students learn coping skills with whatever situation they come upon. We help when they call us panicking that they are going to miss their live class because of a doctor appointment, or because they are staying at Dad’s house this week and forgot their computer charger.
We also help to bridge the gap among the staff team when necessary. We communicate with teachers and team members to support students, knowing that they may be dealing with issues at home above and beyond our control.
"We do our best to listen, communicate and encourage ideas, and inspire motivation. "
We do our best to listen, communicate and encourage ideas, and inspire motivation. Whether it be a phone call, google hangout or chat message, our students know that we are here for them, even if it isn’t face-to-face.
While some of our work is responding to situations as they arise, we mostly work proactively to helps our students prepare for life through teaching a variety of skills.
We provide live guidance lessons bi-weekly in to all grade levels to focus on ways to succeed academically, such as study skills, time management, organization, etc.
We provide personal/social lessons that center around the following:
- positive thinking
- drug abuse prevention
- and much more
We encourage support and friendship building during these times, free of judgment and the demands of class work.
We lead team meetings when a parent tells us that their child is struggling with motivation, or maybe they simply need help knowing where to start in their school work.
Counselors are often moderators, even peacemakers, between administration, parents, teachers and students. We help students that may not be communicating well with their teachers and parents and role play with them on how to start the conversation.
We also hold some pretty special meetings with the students, simply to focus on the student’s strengths, motivations and dreams for after high school. We strive for students to be self-motivating, responsible young adults.
When a student comes to us, whether it be via email, call, text, chat (learn more about our communication tools), they know that they can come to their school counselor in a safe place, free of judgment, criticism and belittling.
Our purpose is to be there for that student when they need us and before they need us. Whether it be for academic reasons, personal reasons, social or other. We treat students with a calming presence and the utmost respect.
Most importantly: we meet our students where they are, not where we want them to be.
"We meet our students where they are, not where we want them to be."
Why the Cyber Environment?
Before I joined PA Distance in 2016, I was unsure of what the school would be like. How can I actually help these kids online? The stereotypes in my head reeled!
People often express to me their picture of my students as friendless kids that sit in front of a screen all day with no social interactions. But that student they've deemed strange because they don't attend their local school can't be stereotyped as "socially awkward."
That student came to our school for other reasons.
That student joined PA Distance so that he could fit more honors classes into his schedule while still having flexibility to pursue musical theater.
That student was pulled out of their local high school because he is receiving cancer treatments and is too ill to get up and out of the house.
That student is an athlete and needs flexibility to travel for her competitions.
That student lost his father last year and could care less about coming to school and pretending he is okay.
That student loves school and working on her family's farm, and PA Distance allows her to fully enjoy both.
That student was bullied so badly that she contemplated suicide.
That student holds strong to his religious values, and PA Distance gives him more flexibility to practice and serve in his community.
That student feared returning to his school because of the gangs and gun violence he experienced on a daily basis.
We support students like these in making sure they are safe, emotionally cared for, and understood. We also help prepare them for their future. I ask you to please think again before you make an assumption about a cyber-schooled student.
Wrapping It Up
So, do you still wonder what counselors face every day in a cyber-school?
At PA Distance Learning, school counselors are the students' advocate, moderator, and #1 supporter. We are the first ones to welcome the family after enrollment, and we are the shoulder to lean on every day after.