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Schools struggle finding counselors as demand skyrockets

Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 4:05 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The demand for school counselors has skyrocketed during the pandemic but districts in southern Arizona say closing the gap isn’t so easy.

Filling school counselor positions was a problem even before COVID hit.

“If you looked at the picture pre-pandemic. Arizona was bottom last when it came to ratio per student. That was one counselor per 900 kids. That’s not good,” said Pima County Superintendent Dustin Williams.

The situation has improved some with about one counselor for every 730 students, according to the most recent data from the Arizona Department of Education.

Schools received COVID recovery dollars to fill these positions. For the Vail School District, the funding has made a huge difference. They only had counselors at their high schools up until now. This school year they hired 10 new counselors who work with younger students in the K-8 grade levels.

“We have a lot of students experiencing depression, anxiety. They’re really that connector to outside agencies to help parents walk through what that looks like in getting their children help they need,” said Amanda Cook, the lead counselor for the Vail School District.

Finding new counselors takes time. Vail, TUSD and the Pima County Schools superintendent all agree, it’s extremely difficult to fill these roles.

“Problem now is the supply and demand,” Williams said. “We really need the supply of counselors and there’s still a big, big shortage out there of how we’re going to get them.”

TUSD was able to hire more counselors this year. However, the district still faces difficulties even after approving a counselor pay raise.

“We don’t have enough capacity to be able to reach all of our students the best we’d like to be able to. of course, we have absolutely phenomenal counselors,” said Rebecca Carrier, the Coordinator for School Counseling at TUSD.

It’s unclear what will happen two years from now when the relief money runs out.

“My hope would ultimately be to keep them but it’s ultimately dependent on what the state decides to do,” Cook said.

The Pima County Health Department is getting a grant for more than $6 million that will help support behavioral health services in schools.

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