Many American children experience trauma related to household poverty and addictions. They and their families often need interventions well beyond what a school with a part-time nurse and overwhelmed counselor can provide. The American School Counselor Association recommends one school counselor for every 250 students. The average ratio in Georgia is one to 450.
When the Education Week Research Center asked teachers about social and emotional learning, 78% agreed it’s part of their job to help students develop strong social and emotional skills. But 43% also said they had difficulty “finding ways to help students who appear to be struggling with problems outside of school.” And 23% said what was most challenging was “finding ways to help students who appear to be experiencing emotional or psychological distress.” Less than 40% of teachers aid they received training in conflict de-escalation or child trauma. Fewer than three in 10 teachers report receiving mental health training.
Stephen Pruitt, the former Kentucky state commissioner of education now leading the Southern Regional Education Board, said schools must free counselors from other tasks, including serving as test coordinators, to spend more time talking with kids. Teachers must also be trained to recognize warning signs in their students, he said. And schools have to vow that students won’t wander through classrooms and hallways unseen and unheard.
“I think every kid should have their name mentioned seven times a day by some adult in some school building,” he said. “When I taught, I stood by my door and tried to call every name and made sure I spoke to every kid.”