Will Lowe, a sophomore at Franklin, has had three different counselors since their freshman year. It can be stressful for students to not know the person they are supposed to be able to rely on at their school. “I don’t feel like I can go to the new counselor with any issues that I have, because I think they’ll just change again,” says Lowe.
Current seniors at Franklin began their freshman year with the tragic passing of one of their counselors, Hoang Minh Tran. Tran had worked at Franklin for over 19 years before his unforeseen passing. Then just five months later, in March 2020, everything would change as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools worldwide. Between the loss of students and staff and the pandemic, students have had a lot on their minds.
The need for a strong counseling program is at an all-time high right now. A recent CDC report titled “New CDC data illuminate youth mental health threats during the COVID-19 pandemic” notes increased rates of teen mental health challenges across the board. Counselors typically work with students who need extra support, either in school or at home. That support doesn’t always seem to be consistently available when counselors are frequently leaving at Franklin.
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends one counselor per 250 students. At Franklin, each counselor is managing 330 students. On top of that, each counselor temporarily added another 64 students to their caseload after Maleka Allen transferred to Lane Middle School in February. Now, Allen’s caseload is distributed between school social worker and former Franklin counselor Holly Vaughn-Edmonds, and Katie McLaughlin. Even with Allen’s caseload covered, 330 students is way over the recommended caseload. “A caseload of 250 [students] would be great. That’s still even a lot of kids,” says counselor Keixa Bridges.
Since Jan. 2022, five of the six counselors at Franklin have left their positions and been replaced mid-year: Shamai Larsen, Jessica Natonick, Holly Vaughn-Edmonds (changed positions at Franklin), Quan Nguyen, and most recently, Allen.
One of the many replacements for these former counselors, Keixa Bridges, says, “Stay tuned for good stuff from the counseling department. You know, change can be a good thing. And I think that that’s incredibly okay.” But this change is also bringing significant uncertainty and problems to students. In a Franklin Post survey sent out on Instagram, of 70 current students, 49.3 percent of students said they don’t feel comfortable going to their counselor with issues they may have. 30.6 percent of respondents also say that their counselor leaving has added more stress for them.
Having the same counselor is the best way to make sure students have the support they need. “We know how important it is to have the one on one [time]: making sure that we have the relationship and making sure we have time to work with the students and getting them to the finish line at graduation,” says Allen. Unfortunately, with all of the counselor changes, this isn’t always the case at Franklin. Some counselors may be leaving because of the extreme workload. While this doesn’t apply to all counselors, others are having to decide between their personal boundaries and the demands of the job. “This job is extremely emotionally demanding, mentally demanding, spiritually demanding,” said Bridges. “I’ve also been the counselor to leave mid-year from a school, you know, and it’s not an easy decision to make.”
Allen is known for being a very invested, hard-working counselor who adores her job. She worked at Franklin for almost six years and announced her surprising mid-year move to Lane Middle School in February. Allen says she has been working extremely hard to not completely cut off contact with students and is still offering support to students via email if they need anything. The process of leaving mid-year is strenuous and difficult for the counselors, Allen recounts: “It’s been a very deliberate move and making sure that all the pieces are right so we’re not giving information that you know says, ‘Hey, this is a last-minute thing.’”
“The most successful [counseling] teams also are extremely student-centered,” says Bridges. Most of the time, though, students are barely getting to know their counselor. Students feel that they are expected to feel comfortable going to someone they have only met once or twice. “I think you should get to know all of the counselors. That way you at least know somebody here. So if your counselor leaves and you need some help, there might be another counselor that you can talk to,” says Lowe. Furthermore, in the Franklin Post survey, 39.4 percent of students said they don’t have a single adult they feel comfortable talking to at Franklin. Student stress and anxiety about these turnovers isn’t talked about much.
Counselors help students forecast for classes and make decisions on a schedule that works for them. “I’m trying to figure out some, like, kind of special things for my schedule next year and I was looking into getting a meeting with [my counselor] and then I got the email saying that he quit,” says Lowe. Picking out a schedule that works for you is really important for student success. It’s a difficult process and counselors help students make their class decisions based on what they want to do in the future. Counselors leaving makes it even more complicated for students and for the counselors who end up taking on additional caseloads.
An article from PBS reports that “among 18 of the country’s largest school districts, 12 started this school year with fewer counselors or psychologists than they had in fall 2019.” It’s apparent this issue isn’t specific to Franklin. “I know ever since COVID, I think a lot of schools have seen a mass exodus of counselors,” says former Franklin counselor Jessica Natonick, who left last school year to be with her family. “I think a lot of counselors are reevaluating and reconsidering their career path,” she adds. This can be predominantly attributed to the stress and mental toll of the job, which involves heavy subjects like death and loss in the community. Counselors are trained to be advocates, including for themselves. When they see their job entrenching on their personal life, they may take action.
Funding is always a large issue when talking about education. Counselor turnover can also be attributed to a lack of funding. Between low pay, and not enough counselors working, many Franklin counselors think that more funds should be allocated toward the counseling program. “Allowing us FTE (a full-time equivalent employee) to fund more counselors would be incredible,” says Bridges.
Funding and support are lacking for counseling programs not just in PPS, but everywhere. Franklin lost five of the six counselors in just a year and almost 50 percent of the survey respondents don’t feel comfortable talking to their counselors. This leaves large amounts of stress on students’ and counselors’ shoulders.