School counselor manager: ‘We’re going to realize that students are going to be different’

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

All interviews are edited for length and clarity.

Note: This interview was conducted during the first week of June

Derek Francis, manager of counseling services, Minneapolis Public Schools

I’m just finishing up my ninth year as a counselor. I started in Minneapolis, then went to Anoka-Hennepin and now I’m back in Minneapolis. I work with all of the schools, including all of the high schools, most of the middle schools and three elementary schools.

The pandemic made us transfer the way we deliver our programs. Right when COVID-19 began, students needed technology. We also started setting up ways for them to communicate and get in a rhythm for communicating with teachers and receiving homework. We tried to be intentional about helping students remember that this is a temporary situation and that things will get better. A lot of schools did some outreach. Patrick Henry High School would drive into the community and see students and do socially distant check-ins.

As we get ready to return to school, mental health is going to be the No. 1 thing we have to focus on. We have to pay attention to students’ social-emotional space. I really think we have to have more school counselors for that. We’re going to realize that students are going to be different. We can’t show up for school in the fall like we just came back from summer break, because students are going to be different emotionally and are going to have a different capacity for how much school work they can do. They won’t be able to do the AP paper the exact same way they would have if they had school this spring. We have to learn how to help them with that adjustment. I think it’s important to have those proactive approaches ready, and that’s where school counselors come in.

I think a lot of students got to a point [at the end of the year] where they were tired of virtual learning. A lot actually miss school and miss the routine and miss their friends. Also, there’s a heightened level of stress around being at home, because some of their family members have lost jobs. Then you add in the layer of the George Floyd incident and it adds a lot of stress.

Students are definitely affected by Floyd’s killing. Especially for our students of color, it’s tough initially because there already was some distrust of law enforcement, so students are nervous. They’re like, “Who do we call when we’re scared of the police?”

I think it’s important for us to know how to help students respond in a positive, proactive way. Our counselors have done a great job of being present, showing up at the schools and helping students peacefully demonstrate. It’s important to help students realize how to maintain social-emotional strength during challenging times.


VOICES FROM THE PANDEMIC

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