The American School Counselor Association recommends one counselor for every 250 students, a ratio that many districts, including the School District of Palm Beach County, are unable to attain with current funding.
However, with the approval of the Referendum, the District intends to use the money generated by the 1 mill levy to hire additional mental health professionals – school counselors, social workers and psychologists – to support the social and emotional well-being of students.
“My hope is that they will see the need, and value the role counselors fill, to fund more counselors per school to provide the services our students need and deserve,” said Rick Dewalt, the Director of School Counseling at Park Vista Community High School in Lake Worth.
Originally a math teacher for 17 years, Dewalt was inspired to make the transition into school counseling as a result of the enjoyment he derived from working with his students on college applications, post-secondary planning, and helping them with their social/emotional concerns.
Earning a master’s degree in School Counseling solidified his credentials in the subject area, and his long-standing devotion to supporting students has carried him through to his 15th year at Park Vista High. The school employs an open door policy in their school counseling offices, allowing students the flexibility to see a counselor before or after school, during lunch, or anytime during the day if the need arises.
“Students need a ‘go-to’ person on their campus”, Dewalt said. “With the amount of issues students are facing today, they must have access to a school counselor.”
Park Vista High’s school counseling department operates according to a plan that involves maintaining calendars of important events, keeping track of meetings for at-risk students they are following closely, upcoming events relating to college admissions and financial aid, and meetings with parents, just to name a few.
Essentially, the school stays on top of all the things that the average high school student deals with in their day-to-day life, issues that may prompt a student to seek assistance in order to manage everything effectively.
After more than three decades of working in the School District, Dewalt has taught and counseled hundreds of students. His experience has shown him that even the best laid plans must sometimes be put on hold for a student or family in crisis.
Even with a daily plan in place, the profession requires school counselors to be flexible to service the needs of their students. But the possibility of being able to bring a sense of stability to the number of school counselors is of the utmost importance.
“The number one thing is to place more school counselors at schools to service the ever-increasing needs of our students” Dewalt said. “I believe that we have enough recent evidence that the need is real and immediate.”
Elementary, middle, and high school counselors are knowledgeable and skilled in working with students who are struggling with developmental or mental health issues. They provide a comprehensive school counseling program in an effort to promote academic, career and personal/social development and success for all students.