As a school counselor in the Livingston Union School District, I have seen firsthand the vital role that school counseling positions play in supporting academic achievement, social-emotional development, college and career readiness, and mental health and wellness in our students. My Superintendent, Andres Zamora, has been a leader in expanding and supporting school counseling positions, recognizing the positive impact they have on our school community.
Between 2006 – 2015, I was one of only two school counselors serving our 2,500 student body, four schools in Livingston. I was a guidance counselor more than a school counselor. In fact, I called myself an “ASCA wanna-be” school counselor providing each school site with whatever counseling service they needed most during my limited time at each site instead of comprehensive services.
In 2015, the local control and accountability plan (LCAP) was introduced in California and we had an opportunity to do things differently. My superintendent, Andres Zamora, invited me to a conversation that changed school counseling in Livingston. I spoke about the role of school counselors in every building as academic advisors, social emotional developers and college and career explorers. I spoke about how school counselors could provide students and families with access to information, opportunities, and resources.
My superintendent understood the value of school counselors in education, agreed without hesitancy and the rest is history. We hired four additional counselors ensuring every school had at least one counselor and the middle school with two. This significant change stemmed from an intentional and inclusive conversation between practitioner and a Superintendent who believes that all students, regardless of their individual circumstances, deserve equitable access to education, information, opportunities and resources.
In 2018, my middle school earned national recognition for providing all students in the building with a comprehensive, data-driven school counseling program. The next year, two additional schools in my District achieved national recognition and the last school in our District achieved national recognition. We are the only California school district to have all nationally recognized schools!
As a school counselor, here are a few key tips I recommend for advocating for school counseling positions:
- Educate others about the benefits of school counseling positions: Share research and data about the positive impact that school counseling positions have on student academic achievement, social-emotional development, college and career readiness, and mental health and wellness. I’ve done this regularly in school bulletins, caregiver newsletters, school counseling advisories and school board presentations.
- Share success stories: Share specific examples of how school counseling positions have made a difference in the lives of individual students or the school community as a whole. I’ve done this regularly through staff shout outs and, mostly recently, created an LUSD Student Success story that is shared with staff and community.
- Advocate for the ASCA national model and recommended ratio: Use the ASCA national model and recommended ratio as a guide for advocating for sufficient staffing levels and support for school counseling positions. Use data to share how school counseling programs impact the lives of students.
By increasing the number of school counselors in schools, we can better support the success and well-being of all students. Counseling gives students the opportunity to work through challenges they may be facing and build the skills and confidence they need to succeed in the classroom. In a time where mental health challenges are becoming more prevalent, the support of school counselors is more important than ever.
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) has developed a national model for school counseling programs that provides a framework for how these positions can support student success. The ASCA also recommends a ratio of one school counselor for every 250 students, to ensure that students have access to the support they need.
Department of Education Bio
Alma Lopez, 2022 School Counselor of the Year, Lead Counselor, Livingston Middle School (California)
The first Latina School Counselor of the Year, Lopez has served as a school counselor for 15 years. She is lead school counselor at Livingston Middle School, as well as Livingston Unified School District’s school counseling coordinator. A graduate of California State University – Fresno, Lopez embodies the full spirit of school counseling. She serves as a Recognized ASCA Model Program (RAMP) reviewer and is a board member for the California Association of School Counselors. In 2018, Lopez received the city of Livingston’s “You Make Us Proud Award” and also helped her school achieve RAMP status the same year. Colleagues refer to her as a positive, humble, and strong advocate for school counselor programs who keeps the students with the most needs top of mind, ensuring they have access to the resources to support their success.