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DoD Schools Add Counselors to Counteract Family Pressures

By Staff Sgt. Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 1999 – The Department of Defense Education Activity plans to nearly double the number of counselors and psychologists in its schools by June 2000 to help students deal with increasing stresses in military family life.

DoDEA Interim Director Ray Tolleson said the first 48 of 200 new counselors and psychologists are already aboard at work. The hirings, he said, are in response to parents' concerns about their children, particularly in Europe, where the high rate of deployments has increased family disruptions.

With the new hires, DoDEA schools will achieve the American School Counselor Association's recommended ratio of one counselor for every 300 students. Most public schools never meet that target ratio, Tolleson said.

DoDEA's school system previously had 226 counselors, spokesman Jim Jarrard said. Although the initial need was identified in Europe, he said, the new staff members are being added throughout the DoDEA system. In total, overseas schools will hire 147 new staff members, while domestic schools will get about 45, he added.

Tolleson stressed the increase in counseling staff doesn't signal an increase in behavioral or emotional problems among students. It's merely one more way to make students more successful, he said.

"This is going to guarantee closer contact with students," he said. "Additional counselors to help students plan for the future, whether it be in college or in a vocational program, can only help strengthen the educational program."

Tolleson said the new counselors are helpful because military families face issues many others never have to -- deployments, field duty, frequent moves, and living in foreign countries.

"If you look at Europe particularly, families are often disrupted by the deployment of their military member to places like Bosnia or Kosovo," he said.

Despite this, he said, he is impressed by how well students in military schools cope.

"It's amazing how students from military families adjust to what would be for most of us very difficult changes," he said. "But we haven't seen any of that manifested in overt discipline problems."

In fact, just the opposite is true, according to DoDEA communications director Pat Lambe. The incidence of all types of violence is significantly lower at DoDEA schools -- in some cases, zero -- compared with what you might find reported nationally, she said.

Tolleson said standardized test scores haven't dropped either -- DoDEA students hold their own against students from across the country. "That says a great deal about the students we have in this school system," he said.

He said the role of the school counselor has changed in recent years.

"At one time counselors were seen as an arm of administration," he said. "They supervised basketball games and dances. Traditional counselors of the past were there more to help you pick a college or tell you what your aptitude was.

"We're seeing a swing to a broader concept," he continued. "Now, part of their job is to make sure students' school experience is a successful one. If something's getting in the way of that, a counselor is there to help the student work through it."

For instance, he said, if a student is having difficulties in a particular class, a counselor might recommend a shift to another class. Or if a child is having trouble adjusting to a new school, a counselor might help the child learn how to better deal with stress and make decisions in a positive way.

Tolleson said students may seek out a counselor themselves or teachers may refer them.

"More often than not, a student will say, 'I need some help,' and just make an appointment," he said. "Teachers play an important role because they see the student every day. It wouldn't be atypical for a teacher to talk to a counselor and say, 'Talk to this child. I think there may be some problems.'"

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