Planning for Success
SCHOOLS | May 21, 2020
Planning for Success

How A Focus on Building Relationships Helps High School Counselors Support Student Well-Being During Remote Learning 

Ms. Alisha Allison says one of her first inklings to make the transition from an elementary school teacher to a school counselor came after many of her parent-teacher conferences turned into counseling sessions. She fell in love with the mission of Al Raby High School in East Garfield Park because it connected directly with her philosophy to be a caregiver whenever possible and to always seek out organic ways to help people. She notes that a counselor’s first year is usually rooted in transition, and she says adjusting to remote learning over the past few months have felt like that first year. To support students throughout their remote learning, Ms. Allison has found that everything connects back to keeping students motivated. 

“It’s been really important to encourage students through all of this and remind them of that old cliché: taking lemons and making the best lemonade we can,” said Ms. Allison. “A big part of this encouragement is working with students to make sure they are putting their personal and social and emotional needs first and then focus on getting the work done.” 

At Roosevelt High School, Ms. Aida Sultan says that remote learning has turned being a school counselor into an all-day responsibility because she’s committed to helping students and their families regardless of when they reach out to her. Because Roosevelt organizes its counseling program based on grade level, Ms. Sultan, who works with seniors, and her colleague Ms. Nina Jarmoc, who works with freshmen, both say that frequently collaborating with their colleagues has been crucial in staying up-to-date with what students need to excel in their remote classrooms. 

“After doing an initial round of outreach with our grade level students, it was important for us to follow-up with teachers to see how things are going,” said Ms. Jarmoc. “Now that teachers have a better sense of what students may be struggling with, we are here to provide that support so that students can be as engaged as possible.” 

From her days as a science teacher to her current role as the school counselor at Austin College and Career Academy, Ms. Stephanie Harris has believed that nothing is more important than building relationships with students. While she says her job has been different during the pandemic, she says that knowing every student by name and having a special bond with each of them has been crucial to her ability to support them when they’ve felt discouraged. She has prioritized frequent well-being checks with her students to make sure all their needs are being met and also remind them that they should be continuing to grow academically, even at home. 

“My students know that I have a track record of being honest with them and going hard for them, so when I tell them that this is a teachable moment and encourage them not to give up now, that means something,” said Ms. Harris. “I’ve always said that I have the mind of a scientist but the soul of a counselor.” 

Building relationships with students also connects to the Ms. Janell Armstrong’s core belief: that, as a school counselor, each one of her students at Bowen High School is her responsibility even after they graduate. As a CPS graduate herself, Ms. Armstrong draws on her own experiences to guide and support her students past high school. She spearheaded a summer melt program, supported students at their college orientations, and worked hand-in-hand with the district’s Learn.Plan.Succeed. initiative to make sure each one of her students has a postsecondary plan. She says this work is more important now than ever before. 

“Learn.Plan.Succeed. is about accountability, and even though these times have been challenging, I’m constantly reminded that I can’t take a cookie cutter approach to helping my students succeed,” said Ms. Armstrong. “I know that community, connections, and relationships are important to my student population, and I will continue to use those tools to make sure they feel valued.”