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Guidance counselors help students make transitions, handle life
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Individual mentoring, providing career guidance and crisis counseling are just three of the many responsibilities school guidance counselors take on during their jobs.

Gainesville elementary school counselors spoke about their roles in students’ lives to the city school board at its Monday meeting.

A key point that came up repeatedly was helping students transition, whether from elementary to middle school, or from middle to high school.

“Transition is crucial,” said Carol Ann Ligon, counselor at Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy. “Not just fifth to sixth (grade). When we are working with our students, getting them ready for middle school, we talk so much to them about what it’s going to be like.”

It can be tough for a student to know how to handle the sudden independence that comes from the structure change in school levels. Organizational, study and communication skills are emphasized at a classroom level with students, the counselors said.

“Even in elementary school, we do topics like work habits,” said Dee Siphambili, counselor at Gainesville Exploration Academy. “(Transitioning) is one of our big rocks that we are working on ... because we do realize it’s not just moving from grade to grade, or school to school, but after high school, what next?”

“Children experience transition until they’re young adults,” said Fair Street School counselor Kim Hall. “As we know, those transition points make them highly vulnerable.”

She went on to address how counselors help with disciplinary problems, stating the recommended ratio is one counselor per 250 students. The average ratio in the United States is one counselor for 450 students.

That case overload is now leading to schools, with Fair Street being one, coming up with better solutions to handling disciplinary procedures. For example, there are certain situations that can be handled in class by the teacher, without referring the student for administrative discipline.

The counselors pointed out students may face issues such as their parents being deported, or excessive bullying. There are a variety of ways to help, they said, both in school and using outside resources.

Board member Willie Mitchell brought up the importance of mentoring in helping students overcome issues they may be facing, either in school or at home.

“The challenge we have is that there’s not enough mentors,” Hall said. “I think that extra support (is important.)”

“Every opportunity I get, I try to recruit people to mentor,” Mitchell replied. “As a school system, we need to beg the community to (mentor), and enlighten them about the problems."