Gerard Lawson, ACA’s 66th president

This is an exciting time of year for students at every level who are looking forward to spring break. We are also entering the season of college admissions decisions. That can be a season of celebration for college-bound students, but it can also be a time of frustration and despair for those whose plans begin to unravel as they read, “We regret to inform you …”

Isn’t that emblematic of the work that school counselors do across the board? They are there for the celebrations and for the heartache. And they do so much more.

Some of you have heard me tell a story about an especially observant high school counselor who noticed something about me that led to the discovery of a mild/moderate learning disability. I was tested for and diagnosed with dyslexia as a sophomore in high school, and that changed the trajectory of my academic career — and, indeed, my life. I went from a socially awkward teenager, repeating algebra for the third time, to regularly giving presentations to hundreds of people and teaching multivariate statistics. That is the kind of difference that school counselors make every day.

I often describe professional school counselors as the first and last layers of a safety net put in place to protect kids. School counselors are often the first to recognize that something isn’t quite right for a student, and they are able to intervene early to help those students stay on their academic trajectory. School counselors are so embedded in the fabric of their schools that teachers, administrators, coaches and caretakers know that if something is amiss, their best resource is just down the hall. They are also the last layer of the safety net. For kids with whom everything else has been tried — and who may be running out of options — school counselors remain tireless advocates. They ensure that every child has the opportunity to achieve his or her mental health, academic and career goals.

There is no denying that the world of school counselors is very different today than when I was in high school. That just makes my admiration for my school counseling colleagues grow even more. Today’s school counselors must be able to handle suicide prevention, threat assessment, challenges with students’ home life, stresses associated with academic performance and so much more. In a time when community resources are dwindling, school counselors step into the gap, because the alternative is unacceptable.

Author John Green (Paper Towns, The Fault in Our Stars) is quoted as saying, “You do not need to be a student or have a child who is a student to benefit from public education. Every second of every day of your life, you benefit from public education.” I don’t have kids, but every day I see the importance of the passionate work of school counselors and how this work improves my community and neighborhood. I marvel at the dedication, compassion, resourcefulness and resilience of professional school counselors. That is why I attend Legislative Day in my home state of Virginia to advocate for school counseling issues and why I speak out when people try to minimize or trivialize the work that school counselors do. It is hard to overstate how important highly qualified and dedicated school counselors are to our quality of life — regardless of whether you have students in school.

So, for my school counseling friends in this spring of the year, I hope that the celebrations far outnumber the consolations for your students, and I hope that you get to enjoy some rest and relaxation over the all-too-brief break. No one deserves it more than you. If you are not a school counselor, find one and hug them (with their permission). They make this world a better place every day.