SCHOOLS | May 19, 2020
How Elementary School Counselors Support Students and Families Through Remote Learning and Beyond
When she became a classroom teacher at Charles Sumner Math and Science Community Academy over 20 years ago, Ms. Chantal Muzzall knew she was going to make a difference in her students’ lives. She had grown up on the West Side, not too far from Sumner, and knew how important it was to be an example for them. As she developed strong relationships with her students, she found herself frequently giving up her planning periods and lunch time just to sit and listen to what they had to say. This inspired her to change her career path and become Sumner’s school counselor nearly a decade ago.
“As a school counselor, it’s important for me to let my students know that I come from the same community as them and know many of the things that they’re dealing with, even though we’re from different eras,” said Ms. Muzzall.
Ms. Sharon Coleman, the school counselor at Johnnie Colemon Elementary Academy on the South Side, also made a major transition over the course of her career by moving from a high school to an elementary school. In her opinion, having the high school perspective in the back of her mind has been incredibly valuable because it allows her to always think about the big picture for her students. As she currently helps her eighth-grade families navigate the processes behind selecting a high school, she makes sure to remind them of what students should be working toward in high school and after they graduate.
“Laying a foundation at the elementary school level by showing what students need to be successful in high school and beyond is extremely important,” said Ms. Coleman. “They need that guidance so much because if they don’t get it until they get to high school, it might be too late.”
Over her 14-year career as a school counselor, Ms. Coleman has emphasized the importance of building a strong and dynamic network of colleagues she can turn to for advice and support in return. Ms. Muzzall attends monthly meetings with other counselors in her network to strengthen her personal relationships and discuss different ways to support students—a topic that is especially important during the current circumstances. Ms. Muzzall says that even though she has to engage students in different ways, she’s aiming to maintain high levels of support and accessibility.
Sumner school counselor Ms. Chantal Muzzall
“I’m still trying to be there for students so I’m constantly reaching out to families, especially in helping students through the process of entering and preparing for high school,” said Ms. Muzzall. “One of the benefits of being at the same school and in the same role for so long is you get to know the families really well and feel comfortable communicating with them.”
Ms. Coleman is quick to say that her heart will be overwhelmed with emotion when everyone is eventually reunited at Colemon. In the meantime, she’s been acclimating herself to using technology more routinely to ensure that she can stay connected with her students and support them and their families as they learn remotely.
“Being able to communicate with families in-person again will mean the world because we know so much about our different families and what they’re going through during these times,” said Ms. Coleman. “It’s overwhelming right now for everyone, so I know coming back together will be emotional but also a very glad time.”