Tales from the Trail of a YA Author- school counseling in the age of Columbine

I was waiting in my car last Friday to pick up my daughter and her friends from school. It was their last day in middle school before graduating and summer break. It’s an exciting time. I smiled to myself when I heard the joyous screams emanating from the school halls right after the final dismissal bell.

That was when I decided not to tell them. Not right away, anyway. I didn’t want to start their summer vacation with the news of another school shooting. This one had happened close to home, at Santa Monica College, when a 23-year-old went on a shooting rampage, killing five and injuring five others.

In my first blog post last week, I said I hoped to share cool and innovative things I found in schools during my author visits. Unfortunately, one aspect of education that we’ve heard more about over the past few years is crisis-related, or rather shooting-related, counseling.

It’s sad that I’m devoting my second blog to that, but this is the world we live in.

It wasn’t long ago that I picked up carpool on another Friday in December as the world was reeling from the news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Many Los Angeles schools were in lockdown a few weeks ago. Fortunately, it turned out to be trauma-free. I watched the girls as they approached my car smiling this Friday in June, and I was thankful.

My friend, Lisa is the mom of one of the girls and is a transfer student counselor at Santa Monica College, which was another reason I didn’t want to talk about it in the car. I knew Lisa was safe and hadn’t been on campus that day, but I knew it would be scary for her daughter to hear about a shooting at her own mom’s workplace.

Later that day, my family and many others attended and celebrated the middle grade culmination, although news of the Santa Monica shooting was still unfolding. The tragedy dominated the airwaves much of the weekend.

As for Lisa, it meant that instead of spending the following Sunday with her family, she would go onto campus to help fellow staff and students as well as herself pick up the pieces.

Lisa said the school’s response was seamless and immediate. The college called in outside grief counselors and many other services to deal with the trauma.

“I was there to hug people and help them get to the right place where they could get additional help,” said Lisa, noting the college also set up a 24-hour helpline and offered many other methods of support, including therapy dogs on campus.

“In a lot of ways, seeing all the outpouring is helping me deal with it.” she said.

According to the American School Counselor Association, crisis response and coordination has always been a school counselor duty, but it has become a more formal position in terms of policy after the Columbine shooting.

But even so, when times are tough school counselors are often the first to get let go. The organization believes increased support for mental health programs can help prevent future violence by identifying and helping students who exhibit behavior that could signal the potential for violent acts.

I look forward to your comments and suggestions.

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2 thoughts on “Tales from the Trail of a YA Author- school counseling in the age of Columbine

  1. As a teacher, parent and once a student, your post resonates with me. In times of violence, what to say and do to help children is so hard when we struggle with the information of the events ourselves.

    I also know that when I was a student in high school, my school counselor was so important to me. I found out while I was in college that she had been let go, because the new budget only allowed for one school counselor for 800 students. Ridiculous because I remember Coco Williams vividly as a woman who truly helped me find my path into teaching and her job was so easily erased in a budget meeting.

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