Counselors play vital role in preparing children for life

Stephen Pruitt

The role of the school counselor has changed pretty dramatically since most of us were in school.

Your school counselor might have helped you with your college applications, given advice on recommendation letters or helped fill out class schedules. These days, their role has become much broader and more critical in addressing student needs.

State regulations require school counselors to have a master’s degree, which includes many hours in childhood development courses. These professionals are experts in offering and coordinating supports to meet the needs of the whole child, embracing everything from advising students about future careers to providing counseling for youth about issues such as bullying and mental health.

At the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE), we realize the important role that counselors play in each and every school. We have hired a consultant to support and advise school counselors throughout the state, but we still have far to go in using them to their fullest extent.

The American School Counselor Association recommends one counselor for every 250 students. In Kentucky, that ratio for the 2013-14 school year was one counselor per 445 students. And the counselors we do have often are being assigned duties that take them away from their primary job to provide support for children.

 We have work to do.

The evolving role of school counselors focuses on three main areas in Kentucky – transition readiness, social and emotional well-being; and opportunity and access. As we move into the era of the Every Student Succeeds Act, KDE is focusing on all three areas.

In the area of transition readiness, counselors help prepare students for the next level in their academic career, including moving from school to school and grade to grade. In the secondary grades, they focus on life beyond high school, whether it involves postsecondary education, entering the military or moving into a career. They help students complete university, college and career applications, enroll in dual credit opportunities, understand financial aid and align programs of study to a young person’s interests so they have the opportunity to pursue career pathways while still in high school. Counselors get to think about kids, not worry about accountability.

School counselors also work with students and their families on developing essential skills to help ensure young people achieve not only success in high school, but also that graduates can make the cut when applying for competitive jobs in our global economy.

However, the most important role school counselors play is their responsibility in caring for and coordinating programs for the social and emotional well-being of our students. Of the 650,000 children who attend public schools in the Commonwealth, the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services reports that 4.5 percent of them are homeless, 8.2 percent of 10th-graders have attempted suicide in the past year, 13 percent have had a parent incarcerated and 8,500 students are in protective out-of-home placement.

School counselors have a responsibility to students when they show emotional or psychological distress, in addition to being proactive by ensuring all of our public school students have access to educational opportunities that teach coping skills and character education.

Finally, counselors have a large part to play in ensuring students have access to the best education Kentucky can offer. They use data such as test scores to help identify students who would benefit from additional services. They make sure that if a child has a need – whether it is tutoring or creating opportunities for more challenging coursework – that they receive it. This is especially important in Kentucky, where our new accountability system includes special measures to make sure all children – regardless of race, ethnicity, economic status or where they live – have access to the services they need.

Counselors are not just a nice complement for schools to have if there is money to fund the position. They are vital professionals who help ensure all of Kentucky’s students have the services, skills and preparation they will need to become thriving citizens of our Commonwealth. We all have a role in helping fulfill the promise of counselors.

For parents, get to know your child’s school counselor. Regardless of whether your child is in elementary, middle or high school, their school counselor can help them address many of the challenges that may stand in the way of their academic success.

For educators, think outside of the box in regard to how school counselors are being used in your building. Counselors must have the time to address the needs many of Kentucky’s young people face. We know that students cannot learn if their basic needs are not met. It may take some creativity in how schools and districts assign tasks to give counselors the opportunity to offer direct services to students, but it is well worth the effort.

And for counselors, thank you for all you do to help Kentucky’s children achieve their potential. You are a valued and valuable member of the education community. Counselors help teachers across the Commonwealth make sure every child is in the best position possible to learn. That kind of guidance is something we can all use.


  1. Dr. Pruitt,

    Thank you for understanding the work we are trying to do with today’s youth. In Jefferson County there are many battles we are fighting in order to see our students progress through high school and transition into being a productive citizen. I absolutely love working with our students at school and seeing their smiles when small goals are reached. Even though there are sad stories and tears shed on some days, the reward of knowing the impact I may have played in a student’s life can really “fill my bucket”. I try everyday to work with the students as if they were my own child and how I would want my child to be treated. There is so much in today’s society our students bag up and carry we have to continue to help them cope and persevere. I appreciate all you are doing to support us and thank you for this article.

  2. Dr. Pruitt,
    Thank you so much for your support of school counselors. I know that I love my job and I try every day to save children through my work. I also work with an amazing group of high school counselors who also share my passion for students. We appreciate all of the understanding of the integral role we play in the school system in positively impacting student lives!

  3. Dr. Pruitt, thank you for speaking to us at the KCA conference and thank you for speaking on our behalf. The current situation with counselors in eastern Kentucky is not only regrettable but can be detrimental to the academic, social and professional career of hundreds of young people. Please let the Kentucky School Counselors Association know how we may partner with you (campaigns to legislatures, etc.) to help address this situation. Having a commissioner who understands our value is invaluable. Again, thank you.

  4. Dr. Pruitt,
    Thank you for writing an article about School Counselors. When School Counselors are able to design comprehensive programs our students are able to achieve more emotionally, socially and academically. With the combination of education about our role and advocacy from leaders like yourself, School Counselors may be able to do the job they were trained to do and make an even greater difference. Thank you for your advocacy.

  5. Kentucky Educators,
    As a former colleague of Dr. Stephen Pruitt, it is a joy to see where he is today as an educational leader! Stephen and I worked together at Sandy Creek High School in Georgia, he as a Chemistry teacher and I as a school counselor! He was an exemplar teacher who daily challenged his students to be excellent not just in the classroom, but also on the athletic field as well as life! I will tell you that some students in his Chemistry classes would come to my office and request to be transferred to another teacher. Before I would even think about granting this request, I always consulted Stephen. He would tell me to encourage them to hang with him till they got to stoichiometry (and the former English teacher thought, “What the heck is that?”). So, because he had an impeccable reputation as a teacher who deeply touched the lives of his students, I would call the student to my office and share the “hang with Mr. Pruitt” message! To a student, all would come back at the end of the year absolutely in love with him and with a clear and understandable knowledge of Chemistry. To have him mention my name along with other Georgia counselors I highly respect is such an honor from an educator I’ve always admired and looked up to for his professional excellence! All this is to say to each of you that you are all fortunate and blessed to have Dr. Stephen Pruitt as your state’s educational leader! “Hang with Dr. Pruitt!” Oh, the places you’ll go!

  6. Thank you for taking the time and using your platform to recognize the important role counselors play in a young person’s social, emotional and educational journey.

  7. Thank you, Dr. Pruitt! School counselors are such valuable assets to children a day families in Kentucky. Not only do they go above and beyond to meet the needs of the whole child, they are resourceful, creative, and much needed to make sure our schools are running efficiently. I appreciate your acknowledgement of the new term “school counselor.” Gone are the days when counselors simply do guidance.

  8. Dr. Pruitt,
    Thank you for your understanding of the role counselors can play in the education of our students. We want to be available to meet the needs of students across the spectrum of academics, career and technical education, and social and emotional learning as well! We want to be available to provide supports to our colleagues in the classroom as many of us have been there ourselves and understand first-hand the challenges they face. We are a uniquely trained group ready to bring our considerable talent to bear more fully as the opportunity is presented.
    We are grateful to have a Commissioner that is advocating for creating opportunities to educate the whole child in order to create a better future for all of us! Please, keep leading the charge! We are with you, and our students will be the ultimate winners!

  9. This was an awesome article! Thank you for taking the time to write an article that definitely shows your appreciation for our profession! Thanks again!

  10. Dr. Pruitt,
    Thank you for shedding light on school counselors and the services that they provide to our students. School counselors are uniquely trained to meet the needs of the whole child when used appropriately. I am thankful to have a Commissioner in office that understands and values the role of school counselors in removing barriers to education so that ALL of our students can be the best versions of themselves! I agree, we have a lot of work to be done, but our students are 100% worth it! 🙂