Shanker Hall at UFT headquarters was packed on March 11 for the 19th annual School Counselors Conference — the first fully in-person conference the chapter has held since school buildings closed during the pandemic.
Chapter Leader Rosemarie Thompson observed in her address that trauma, grief, bullying and academic anxiety are “all-consuming” issues for many students in the best of times. With the additional challenges of the pandemic, she said, counselors thought of “innovative ways to rise to the occasion ... to be the dependable person that students know is always there for them unconditionally.”
The mood was celebratory as counselors relished the opportunity to connect in person. For the first time, the morning workshop session was reserved for breakout rooms organized by division, where counselors discussed challenges unique to their schools’ age groups.
“My favorite session was when we talked within our grade band,” said Olena Kebalo of Energy Technical HS in Astoria, Queens. “We talked about strategies for common problems like poor attendance,” she said. Kebalo plans to adopt with her students who struggle to get to school the “small group interventions” the high school counselors discussed in their workshop.
Maite Delmonte-Nunez, a longtime para and now a first-year counselor at World View HS in the Bronx, described her initial year as “challenging” with “lots of paperwork.”
UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who attends each year to show his support, pledged to “fight” during this year’s contract negotiations to minimize burdensome administrative work.
“You help children, you help teachers, you help families, you help everybody in the school,” he said to the counselors. “How much better would our school system be if you had more time to do what you were hired and trained to do?”
Ultimately, Delmonte-Nunez said, her new job has been “extremely rewarding.” She said the conference gave her the opportunity to connect with fellow counselors and “to share ideas about communicating with parents, assisting in the mental health crisis kids are facing, increasing attendance and overall supporting families.”
In one of the day’s highlights, school counselors received two city proclamations, one from Mayor Eric Adams and another from the City Council, expressing gratitude for their service to students navigating the pandemic and the transition back to in-person learning.
New York City Council Education Committee Chair Rita Joseph, a former public school teacher, summed up the feelings of grateful students, parents, teachers and UFT members when she presented one of the proclamations: “You are unsung heroes.”