By Chase Rowe,
When students at Davis High struggle, they often seek help and guidance from school counselors. What many of them do not realize is that the counselors that aid them have a struggle of their own – working in a vital but severely understaffed department at DHS.
The American School Counselor Association recommends that there be one school counselor for every 250 students. But at DHS, each counselor accounts for 365.
Sophomore Andres de Loera Brust was critical of the counseling department.
“They have to account for more students, so it feels less personal. [Junior high school counselors] were more available for personal assistance,” de Loera said.
Head Counselor Courtenay Tessler said that counseling has “always been a huge job, but it has expanded.” Also, a variety of factors have added weight to the workload of a counselor. The introduction of computers, an increase in troubled students and a lack of funding have all influenced her and her colleagues.
“I thought [the introduction of computers] would make our job easier, but it made it harder,” Tessler said while scrolling through a seemingly never-ending list of emails.
Tessler mentioned that combing through these emails takes time – time that could be spent meeting with or reaching out to students.
Tessler also said that she has seen an increase in suicidal and depressed students. Students who are identified as “at-risk” receive priority over other students, and the increase in anxiety makes it increasingly difficult for counselors to find the time to talk to other students about college and academic issues.
The DHS counseling department is often short on money as well as time. The main effect of this lack of funding is a shortage of actual counselors.
“It’s just like teaching – the teacher is the program. If you have a reasonable number of students, you can work with them,” Tessler said.
In 2012, the state of California had the highest student-to-counselor ratio in the nation, according to the California Department of Education.
Despite of the lack of state support, the DHS counseling department has recently hired a new counselor with funding from the Davis Schools Foundation. This year, the Davis Schools Foundation donated $93,000 specifically for counseling services in the Davis Joint Unified School District.
In addition, Davis voters approved Measure E last fall, providing $3 million in additional funding for the DJUSD that specifically included funds for preserving existing counselors.
With the new counselor in action, the ratio of counselors per student will decrease to one to 325.
“Our community has been very supportive. Davis tries hard to support counseling,” Tessler said.
However, Joe Nomellini, the new counselor, will only be available at DHS on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays each week, so he is still not a complete remedy for the problem.
Tessler said that with enough funding for the recommended ratio of 250 students to one counselor, the department could offer more special services and career help.
Currently, counselors are visited mainly by organized “A” students and students in risk of failure. With more counselors and more time, DHS’ counselors could reach out to all students and assist them throughout their high school years.