More than a year ago, the School Counselors Conference was the last UFT conference held before COVID-19 shut down school buildings. This year’s event, held on March 20 on Zoom, found school counselors grappling with a new set of challenges as the end of the pandemic slowly comes into view.
“You are the front line and know the damage that has been done,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said in his remarks. “None of it is fair. But as professionals you continue to move forward. You are all heroes for our kids, heroes without capes.”
The 17th annual conference, School Counselors: The Voice and Soul of Our Community, drew 260 participants. School Counselors Chapter Leader Rosemarie Thompson said many were first-time attendees who found it easier to attend the virtual event.
Members heard keynote speaker Misha Thomas of the Sanctuary Institute discuss strategies for helping students through the trauma of the pandemic. Thomas also talked about the importance of members recognizing their own struggles and nurturing their own recovery during this period.
Breakout sessions discussed how to nurture relationships with students that boost their academic and emotional development, and a meditative yoga exercise and raffle rounded out the day.
“Many of us are working longer hours, working with students on their college applications but also doing wellness check-ins,” Thompson said. “We endure and we adjust. We are the pillars that hold up the school.”
Given the current situation, Hillcrest HS school counselor Veronica Herrera “appreciated the emphasis on how to take care of yourself and your students.” Talking about the juniors and seniors with whom she works, Herrera said, “Some are discouraged because they’re looking at a remote college experience. Some need to find a job because a parent lost a job. A lot of our students are growing up too quickly.”
Heidi Warm, a school counselor at PS 181 in Springfield Gardens, Queens, praised Thomas’ keynote address. “His advice was basically, ‘Let’s get out of our heads and connect,’ such as contacting old friends,” she said. “Given the situation, isolation is potentially crippling.”
The conference also gave Warm a chance to bond with fellow counselors.
“I loved the collegiality, to hear the dialogue — what are they thinking and what can I contribute?” she said. “That kind of cross-fertilization is invaluable.”
Erin Wilson, a policy director for President Joe Biden, greeted members as the day got underway. “You’ve been partners with us in getting the American Rescue Plan passed,” she said.
Wilson also brought greetings from first lady and educator Dr. Jill Biden, who praised school counselors’ commitment to the success of their students: “You believe in them, and because of your commitment they begin to believe in themselves.”