One of my students was assaulted at 12 and became a mother at 13.
She didn’t know what was happening until it was too late. She and her mother showed up at my school office despondent and seeking guidance. It would be hard for anyone, but because we had built trust together, we could find help.
Another student posted on social media that they planned to shoot up our school and then take their life. Quick intervention and an established relationship helped enable us to get the student the outside help they needed before they hurt themselves or others.
These stories are not unique. School counselors like me are often the first line of defense for children reporting their greatest social and emotional challenges.
Nor, sadly, is the lack of counselors in Arizona schools to manage the well-being of schoolchildren.
Arizona doesn’t have enough counselors
Arizona faces extremely high caseloads of 905 students for every one counselor — the highest ratio in the country. Our work relies on the personal connection we establish with students, to help them tackle social emotional crises or to get them prepped for college or career.
Without the inclusion of dedicated funding for counselors in the state budget, we will continue to struggle and leave students without a connection to the meaningful services they require.
A bipartisan team that includes Gov. Doug Ducey, Sen. Sean Bowie and Rep. Jennifer Pawlik see the importance of this, and have taken the bold first steps to allocate dedicated money for school counselors.
We remain hopeful that proposed legislation, Senate Bill 1344 and House Bill 2562, sponsored by Bowie and Pawlik, will build on what the governor proposed and make it into our state budget to provide meaningful engagement for our students.
Kids deserve early intervention
The key to assisting schoolchildren in living full lives will always be early intervention. We all know that when a person experiences adverse childhood trauma, they are prone to higher levels of drug abuse, violence and crime.
To prevent a school crisis today or an incarceration tomorrow, we must act. Any one individual may feel powerless to change this, but it is our shared responsibility and role to make it a reality.
Please join us. Call on the Arizona Legislature to pass a budget that truly prioritizes school safety and the counselors that make it possible.
We must provide a safe place for our children to express themselves, process their feelings, and ultimately, send them back to class to learn. It’s easy to be dismissive and say that these students aren’t your children. But they could be.
And if they were, wouldn’t you want someone they could trust on campus to help?
Janine Menard, a school counselor and chair of the Arizona School Counselors Association board of directors. This opinion piece was originally published in The Arizona Republic/AZCentral.com on April 30, 2019.