In the budget for next school year, the Fauquier County School Board and Superintendent David Jeck allocated almost $400,000 to hire and support three new school counseling positions for local elementary schools.
The step coincides with Gov. Ralph Northam’s goal of reducing the ratio of students to school counselors to 250 to 1. Northam (D) initially requested $36 million in additional funding toward that goal, but the General Assembly allocated only $12 million.
The new positions will be placed in the county’s larger elementary schools, which currently staff one school counselor for 500 students.
A fourth counseling position will be considered for the spring of 2020, once the county has a better idea of where an additional position is needed, Jeck said.
Adding the counseling positions is not the only recent step Fauquier County has taken to support student mental health needs. Last year, testing coordinators were hired at each school to organize standardized testing schedules and makeup exams, a task that previously fell to school counselors. The move was intended to allow counselors more time to assist students, Jeck said in a recent interview.
Additionally, the school division put its “purple lanyard” initiative into action this school year. Teachers who are trained in youth mental health first aid wear their IDs on purple lanyards to signal to students that they are trained and able to help if needed.
When asked about these two initiatives, Jeck praised both decisions, emphasizing the importance of supporting students’ mental health.
“Students are just in a different place now,” Jeck explained. “Expectations are through the roof. … Student mental health issues and school anxiety are a huge problem, and out in the community there are very few resources at schools’ or parents’ disposal to help students.” When asked how he felt about the governor’s effort to hire and support more counselors, Jeck was quick to support the decision.
“It’s not an exaggeration when I say that it’s a monumentally important initiative… I’m proud of the fact that we are where we are with counselors because we’re better than most in terms of the number of school counselors we have,” he said. “But we still have a ways to go.”
Jeck explained that there is much more that can be done to support student needs through the support of school counselors, but the funds approved in the new state budget are a significant start.
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