A recent survey by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) showed that most counselors stated that their biggest obstacles this year were getting access to students in a virtual environment and providing counseling while the Coronavirus has proven to be “challenging” or “extremely challenging.” The newly released study was done in October 2020 and derived a sampling from 110,000 school counselors. It was recently released in time for the Commonwealth of Virginia to recognize February 1-5, 2021 as National Counseling Week.

Westmoreland County Public Schools has five counselors in its four schools. The counselors are Patricia Eddings and Katherine Jackson of Washington & Lee High School; Montross Middle School’s Erika Cornwell; Mathew Freno of Washington District Elementary School; and Cindy English-William of Cople Elementary School. Each of them has reported that the hardest part of doing their job this year was the access to the students and the virtual environment everyone has been forced to adopt.

Eddings noted that she hopes next year will bring better times. “I hope the next year brings back the ability to better connect with all students, faculty and staff. I am grateful for the advances that the division has made with technology such as laptops to every student and making internet accessible to students in need. Hopefully, as a division we will continue making technology advances.”  Her cohort counselor, Katherine Jackson, is new to the district. “The virtual environment is the hardest part this year. It is difficult being new to the school in this environment, too. The biggest challenge has been connecting with students. I am new to the district and one of my favorite parts of the job is connecting with and getting to know students. That has been hard to do in this virtual environment.”

Elementary school counselors have faced similar dilemmas. Cople’s counselor, Cindy English-Williams, also mentioned “not being able to interact with the children face-to-face” as being the hardest part of her job. “Being virtual has caused me to find new ways to reach out and engage with the students.”  Washington District Elementary School’s Mathew Freno concurs. “The most difficult part of this year has been not being able to interact with the students as much. Throughout the course of the year, we have learned and adapted to overcome many challenges, but we are limited on how much time we get to be with the students. In a “normal” school year, I spend as much time being present and interacting with the students as I can. In order to increase my time with students and to help counter the lack of social/emotional learning that comes with virtual learning, I have teamed up with our specials teachers to teach each grade level a guidance lesson each week. I started these lessons in December and have really enjoyed interacting with the students in this way.” He agrees that the biggest challenge has been the limited access faculty has to students. “We are dependent on students logging in and participating. This has made it very difficult to create meaningful relationships with our students. When students are in school we can interact with them more casually. There is time to chat and get to know each other. This is much harder to do online when time is short. Our staff has worked tirelessly to make things as easy and accessible for parents and students as possible as well as to encourage participation.”

Knowing the students is an essential part of being a good counselor. Montross Middle School counselor Erika Cornwell is fully aware of the virtual pitfalls of this year. “Adjusting to not seeing students every day is the hardest part of my job now. Many times you could look at a student and their body language and know what type of day they were having. It was easy to do a check-in with students. Now being virtual, it is harder to check-in with students. I have missed not getting to know the sixth graders. The past two years, I have spent time in the sixth grade classrooms getting to know the students. The school counseling role is ever changing to meet the needs of the students.”

Westmoreland County Public Schools is grateful for the expertise their counselors have exhibited during the Coronavirus. Because of their commitment to excellence, students are still receiving advise and care. The WMLCPS counselors are to be commended for their outstanding service to local students, staff and parents.