National week to honor counseling

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 17, 2006

NATCHEZ &8212; Guidance Counselor Mary Washington is a tear-wiper, a guiding hand, a stern voice and a paper shuffler.

But the most important times in her work at Morgantown Elementary often come over a game of Connect Four.

&8220;The most difficult of situations to deal with is kids who come in crying,&8221; she said. &8220;You drop what you are doing and go see about that one.&8221;

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Her first move is to cheer them up, talk about something else or just make them smile a little. Then comes the Connect Four.

They play a few rounds, and Washington asks a few questions.

&8220;It&8217;s not like a regular counseling session,&8221; she said. &8220;I get their mind off it, then they start talking.&8221;

Washington and her counterpart at Morgantown, counselor Peggy June, won&8217;t do much of anything special for National Counselors Week this week. They&8217;ll just keep doing their jobs, just like the school counselors around the Miss-Lou.

In Mississippi, the state requires one school counselor per 250 students. The job description varies slightly according to the age of the children, but they all do their fair share of school record keeping and one-on-one counseling. All counselors are required to have a master&8217;s degree in guidance on top of teacher certification.

Washington, a former home economics teacher, is in her fifth year as a guidance counselor.

She usually starts her day just after 7 a.m. with students waiting. They come for belts or jackets, to pay dues or turn in paperwork. Much of the day is spent on individual counseling with students sent to her office by their teachers. She&8217;ll review grades and tell them what has to be done to pass.

Washington also teaches a class each day on character issues. Monday&8217;s class was about gossip.

But Washington&8217;s favorite part of the job is small group counseling.

&8220;You get to know the kids better,&8221; she said. &8220;You feel like you can make a difference with a small group.&8221;

When a school counselor uncovers a deep-seated issue or problem, the student is referred to a school psychologist or a professional in the community. But for everyday issues, a little time to talk is sometimes enough.

Washington leads an anger management group, and June leads a grief management group with the children.

Both counselors also meet with students, their teachers and parents when needed.

&8220;I&8217;ll sit in there and cry with them,&8221; Washington said. &8220;I keep a box of Kleenex handy.&8221;

But when you can make a difference, it&8217;s worth it, both counselors said.

&8220;(The best part is) hoping that you can make a real difference in a child&8217;s life,&8221; June said.

&8220;When they really have that light bulb moment and see things a different way.&8221;