By Sandy Asper
2:32 PM PST, January 31, 2013
Any teacher can point out the students in their classes who have psychological problems. There are clear indications, some even to the casual observer: lack of friends, uncommonly quiet or the opposite, choice of clothes, bodily issues, etc.
The classroom teacher has decisions to make regarding the students who appear to be in trouble. Depending on the number of students she is responsible for (150 to 180 students in intermediate and high schools, 23 to 37 in elementary), she/he could try to talk to the student, call the parents (always dicey), or try to get the school counselor involved.
Because Newport-Mesa has only 25 to 30 counselors, coupled with the number of students that need help and the cynical way these counselors are sometimes used, the chances of the a troubled kid getting serious help is a problem.
Years ago I suggested that because hiring a sufficient number or psychologists/counselors was improbable, we might ask our community of licensed psychologists to step up and take on one or two students pro-bono. I called on several psychologists in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa and asked them if they would do that. Not only did they say they would, they were enthusiastic about it.
My suggestion at the meeting was greeted by blank stares followed by a plethora of reasons this could not happen: background checks, scheduling issues, rooms available, parental approval, and questions students even needed this help.
So the idea died right there in that room.
The American School Health Assn. recommends a ratio of 250 students to 1 counselor. At Ensign Intermediate School alone with its population of about 1,000–plus, this would require four counselors. Ensign has two.
It's clear that NMUSD does not have a sufficient number of counselors, and given the constantly reported "doom-and-gloom" financial situation, it is unlikely that the district is going to run out and hire them.
At any given moment in time, 20% to 60% of our students have problems that run the gamut of temporary to serious (and I am low-balling this figure).
Those who think that money spent on hiring more psychologists/counselors is unnecessary should consider current research that shows that comprehensive school counseling programs affect student success and achievement. Translated, that means the students who have this help do better on standardized tests and more go on to college.
If the administration is not persuaded by the idea of helping kids in trouble, they might want to consider the testing argument.
Let's hire some counselors who are given the mandate to actually counsel. We can afford it. We actually can't afford not to.
Or we can give my idea about utilizing the excellent resources we have in our communities another look with different eyes.
SANDY ASPER lives in Newport Beach.