by Brian Washington
In the wake of the deadly schoolhouse shooting last month in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 young children and 6 educators were slaughtered by a gunman many suspect may have been suffering from mental illness, Maxine Mosley, a middle school counselor in Manchester, New Hampshire, is concerned about some of her students.
Mosley said her school gave students ample opportunities to express their thoughts, fears, and concerns about what happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, but very few came forward. To make matters worse, students she reached out to were reluctant to consider the possibility that what happened in Newtown could happen at their school and were emotionally detached.
“Those are the kids you really need to be challenging and looking at as they get older to see if they can feel and show empathy or remorse,” said Mosley, who has 30 years experience as a school counselor. “It is much easier at times for people who don’t show empathy or remorse to act out aggressively towards themselves or other people when under emotional distress.”
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This is why Mosley and other school counselors are so vital to fostering a safe school environment for students. President Barack Obama thinks so as well, which is why he is proposing more federal funding to hire more school counselors and psychologists to help prevent gun violence in schools.
Mosley likes the idea but wants the public to understand that the challenges our students face today stem from what she calls “deeper rooted issues”— such as mental illness and childhood depression and anxiety.
“Those were not the issues we were dealing with 30 years ago,” said Mosley, who believes the emotional indicators used to help identify students who may be at risk for violent behavior — such as the inability to show empathy or remorse — are growing. “And I think that when you have less people in your schools that are certified and trained to be dealing with potential mental health issues, everyone’s safety becomes an issue.”
Last year, Mosley said she along with two other counselors served the entire middle school, which covers grades six through eight. Each counselor took a grade level — which she says allowed her and her colleagues to foster meaningful connections with those students seeking help. However, due to budget cuts this year, one of the three counselors now has to split her time between Mosley’s middle school and another school. This has resulted in a 25 percent higher caseload for Mosley and the other remaining counselor, which makes it difficult to truly get to know the students and their families.
The 3 million educators who make up the NEA and work in the nation’s public schools and institutions of higher learning support the hiring of more school counselors and psychologists for students. In a letter to Vice President Joe Biden, who chaired the task force that formed the basis of President Obama’s proposals, Arizona math teacher and NEA President Dennis Van Roekel indicated that there should be at least one school counselor for every 250 students. The NEA also supports many of the president’s other proposals, including a ban on high capacity ammunition magazines and assault weapons, which are totally different than your grandfather’s hunting rifle. These extraordinarily dangerous, military-style weapons are alarmingly within easy reach across the nation. Today, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is expected to introduce legislation, endorsed by NEA, to ban them.
“As educators, we have grieved too long and too often — for the children killed, their families and the heroic educators who gave their lives trying to protect their students,” said Van Roekel. “Now more than ever we need to do what is necessary to make sure every child in our nation’s public schools has a safe and secure learning environment.”
Meanwhile, for Mosley, creating a safe and secure learning environment for all students begins with early intervention.
“I think there really needs to be a concerted effort to make sure that we have enough counselors at the elementary level because that is where you start to see these indicators or benchmarks of mental health concerns,” said Mosley.
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