Karely Molina Martinez staff writer
Since before the pandemic, counselors emphasized the importance of being there for students. Nine months later, they continue to encourage students to reach out to them and seek help when needed, despite the additional pressure added to their jobs as a result of COVID-19.
Counselors noticed the way in which their schedules have changed as a result of COVID-19. The pandemic has not only impacted many of their work lives, but their personal lives as well. Some counselors, such as Kathleen Avena Blanco, feel that COVID has made their job “a million times” more difficult. Struggling between balancing work and their personal life, they have found the silver lining of the pandemic through their family.
“Rather than focus on what’s different or what’s missing as a result of this current situation, my husband and I are trying to focus on what’s enriching about this current situation,” Blanco said. “That is, we believe (or try to) that we will never have this time again with our two children, so let’s try to enjoy it and create rituals to increase our connection with our children.”
Managing children and the responsibilities of being a high school counselor is a challenge for Blanco, and with the impact of COVID-19, she has worked to adjust to the changes.
“For me, personally, it has been challenging working remotely full-time while navigating two young children that are engaged in distance learning. We, as a family of four, are adjusting to working remotely,” Blanco said.“In the beginning, it was hard, but now we have been able to acclimate to this routine.”
With the lack of a smooth transition, counselors like Alison Norman-Franks find it challenging to balance work and their personal lives especially while being strictly at home. This challenge has also created an increase in stress.
“I think along with everyone, there’s more stress. Not only running counseling departments but I’m a parent [of] twins in fifth grade. It is the balance, trying to make time for family, alone time, and self-care can be a juggle to balance all that. Even before, in the past, driving to work would be some time alone, where I could sit in my thoughts and think about things. There’s none of that, no transition, just straight from family life to work to family life. It’s harder to carve out personal time,” Norman-Franks said.
The pressure from the job as a counselor has often accumulated for Norman-Franks, especially with raising twins. However, she feels that the district provides the resources needed for counselors who are under similar pressure, especially because the district focuses strongly on mental health and provides resources for not only the students, but the counselors as well.
“Our school district really prioritizes mental health. We meet as a counseling team once a week, there are services throughout the district,” Norman-Franks said. “So I do feel that we are getting our needs met.”
At-home learning brings another challenge to counselors: contacting students. Almost all counselors realized how difficult it can be to reach out to students, and some counselors, like Greg Jackson, feel that they aren’t able to “make strong connections” through the “virtual dynamic.”
“So much of that relationship is built from seeing kids in the hallways to talking to kids during lunchtime. All of that interaction has been robbed from the students and from the faculty, and I’d say that’s the biggest challenge that I’ve really felt: building that strong relationship with students that we didn’t previously know,” Jackson said. “Trying to build that connection in this virtual world is really disconnected.”
Counselors have seen a tremendous amount of positive feedback and support. Whether it’s from the school or the community, most have learned to rely not only on each other but the community as well in order to face the hardships this pandemic brings.
“The amount of support that we’ve seen throughout the community, for everybody, is really the biggest thing that has stood out for me out of this situation. It’s never gonna be perfect and we always wanna do more, but the way that the community has rallied together and supported everybody within the community has really been inspiring,” Jackson said. “It says so much about the Beverly Hills High School and the Beverly Hills city community and what people are willing to do in difficult times to help others.”