Teacher advocates for more counselors in schools

A longtime Shelton Elementary School teacher came before the Board of Education recently, advocating for more counselors in schools.

“Angry children grow up to be angry adults,” teacher Sandra Zuraw told the board at its meeting in December. “When a child is in crisis it’s hard to tell them to wait until a counselor is here is on Tuesday, or even later that day.”

Zuraw, a teacher at Long Hill Elementary School, said that in her career as a teacher she has seen the problems children face at home and in their daily lives change dramatically.

“These children are dealing with things that would make most of us want to go back to bed and pull the covers over our heads,” she told the board.

Zuraw said she understood the Board of Education had to make tough budget decisions, but she said that, especially in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, it is better to be proactive than reactive.

The Board of Education, at the same meeting, approved a proposed budget of $67.2 million, with $440,185 going toward program improvement. The program improvements include new positions, and under the proposal, more counselors are added to schools. A part-time counselor will be added to Long Hill Elementary School and another part-time counselor to Elizabeth Shelton Elementary School.

“Three years ago our guidance personnel was reduced due to budget constraints,” Superintendent Freeman Burr said last week. “This proposed budget includes some level of restoration but does not get us back to the level we were at before.”

School counselors in elementary school split time between schools. The responsibilites of a counselor varies, from career guidance to behavorial support. according to the district, the job includes counseling individual and small groups, developmental guidance lessons, working with staff and parents regarding behavorial and developmental concerns and acting as a liason with community agencies, among other responsibilites.

“There are different levels of guidance support based on the size of the school,” Burr said.

Counselors also help investigate and resolve behavorial issues as needed.

Burr said school counselors are not mental health experts. School staff refer parents and families to appropriate agencies if there is a serious issue, he said.

“From the education perspective, I feel there is a huge departure from school counseling and mental health professionals,” Burr said.

The superintendent said more counselors could benefit schools but the district can’t be unreasonable in its request and is still taking into account economic difficulties.

Zuraw said as times have changed, counselors are needed more and more.

“Years ago a hug solved many things,” Zuraw told the board. “Now we are even afraid to do that.”