Dr. Yuri Nava and Catherine Wallace were asked by the WACAC Communications Committee to share their thoughts, experiences, and advice on working from home and how best to continue helping students during these uncertain times. Dr. Yuri Nava is a school counselor at Riverside Poly High School in Riverside USD and Catherine Wallace is a CTE District Counselor for Corona-Norco USD.

Part 1 – Dr. Yuri Nava 

What day is it? One of the many questions that go through my mind every day in the new normal. What other questions do I have? As a School Counselor, I can’t help but wonder how my students are doing who are vulnerable, facing challenges at home, homeless, or don’t have enough food. Prior to COVID-19 I could easily call them from class, walk down the hall, or into a classroom and physically see how they were doing. I could tell by their body language or non-verbal cues if something else was going on. I also think about my high-achievers that push themselves to the brink of an anxiety attack due to sleepless study nights. I would always ask them and make sure they were doing something non-academic for themselves for self-care.

These are the students that keep going and it reminds me why now more than ever ALL our students need access to their School Counselor. I recently heard that Child Abuse Reports dropped by half in some counties and we all know and have those students in the back of our minds. This is why our role and involvement in our districts distance learning plan is extremely crucial during these times.

Even though school is closed, it doesn’t mean our Counseling Offices should be closed or limited as well. Once you have established your guidelines and district/employers’ expectations, there are so many ideas and ways we can continue to advocate for our students.

One of the first things I did as a high school counselor was look at data that had been gathered at the beginning of the school year. It’s times like these that I am so grateful that our school runs an ASCA Model program and is one of the ASCA RAMP schools in the country. We had already visited classrooms for Tier 1 lessons and had done a needs assessment on students for academics, college/career, and social/emotional supports. We had already started running some groups, but I can then create targeted resources for the students in my caseload based on the needs assessment.

For example, I was able to send sixty students 9-12 resources on anxiety, and information on Collegeboard to all my juniors wanting to attend a four-year college. This data was useful as a foundation to start to figure out what resources our students needed during this time. We also kept a confidential crisis log, which we do every year. This was key in making sure our students with prior crisis or suicide ideation received immediate contact from me and/or our districts mental health team.

However, it’s not too late to create a needs assessment for your students. When schools closed, I created a needs assessment for my students and sent it out to gather data on their immediate needs during COVID-19. I was able to see how many students needed resources, such as computers, food, internet, or help in contacting their teachers. More importantly, I was able to see who was struggling with mental health issues due to the pandemic.

While it is understandable that some districts are limiting what School Counselors can do. There is a wealth of resources of out there to help you advocate for your students. If you can’t send a needs assessment out your kids, send it to their parents. It is so important to hear first-hand directly what our families need rather than guessing or making assumptions. This allows School Counselors to provide the vital services needed and also to advocate for the importance of our virtual presence during this time.

Our students need us. We need to e-show up for them!

Part 2 – Catherine Wallace

Like so many, my days went from a 40-minute Southern California daily commute and engaging face-to-face with colleagues and students, to now trying to find a quiet spot in my house from my family to have Zoom meetings.  The last three weeks have posed new challenges and opportunities, trying to find work balance and juggling a family of four while all of us work from home.  I am grateful for the time I have to be home with my family, but I also miss the human connection outside of my family.  There are three things that I am learning from the pandemic: remain confident, present, and proactive; demonstrate our value as school counselors; and work strategically and effectively.

As we continue to navigate this unprecedented time, it is important to remember to remain confident, present, and proactive in our role as school counselors.  As overwhelming as this time is for all of us as educators, it is essential that we embrace these moments and press forward to meet the needs of our students and families.  Be confident in knowing that we have been trained to be professional and ethical and do not be afraid to reach out to the communities we proudly serve.  Our students need us more than ever during this time of uncertainty and grief over the loss felt from these abrupt school closures.  Our seniors need support on next steps for college admission, FAFSA completion, scholarship opportunities, and “what happens” now that schools are closed.  We must remain present and proactive to provide our stakeholders with ever-changing college and career readiness information and resources to help our students attain their post-secondary plans.

Now is the time for school counselors to show the importance of our work.  We must rise up, unite as one, and show educators the vital role we play for our stakeholders.  It has been inspiring to see school counselors create virtual platforms to meet the academic, career, and socio-emotional development needs of our students in a matter of days.  Counselors have taken to various virtual platforms: Zoom, Calendly, and Google Hangout to expand levels of communication and availability for their families.  It is okay to feel overwhelmed during the initial transition to a virtual platform, but be encouraged that we are all in this together and we need to move forward to be there for our students.

It is imperative for school counselors to lean and rely on each other for virtual resources, best practices, and supports as we collectively work together to redefine our role as virtual counselors.  Create a plan or timeline of important deadlines that lie ahead to close-out the school year and create one for the upcoming year.  Develop a list of people who can offer assistance to you and your team as you build your virtual supports.  You are not alone.

Let us also not forget to practice self-care as we care for others.  I wish you and yours good health.  Continue to be confident, present, and proactive. #stayconnected