When students enter Franklin D. Roosevelt HS in Brooklyn, they’re greeted by one of the school’s 14 counselors. Since the school reopened for in-person learning in March, counselors have stationed themselves in the lobby to make themselves more visible to students. They’re available to answer questions, distribute resources or just provide a listening ear — no appointment necessary.
“If a student comes in and they look overwhelmed, there is always someone there they can approach for whatever they need,” says Regina Karagach, who has been a counselor at the Borough Park school for 27 years.
The pandemic upended the lives of students at FDR. Because the school was located in one of the city’s “COVID-19 hot spots,” students and teachers returned to fully remote learning shortly after the beginning of the 2020–21 school year. When the building reopened in March, the 300 students who had chosen to return to the school “were dealing with the trauma and isolation of having been home for almost a year,” says Leena Dave, the school’s chapter leader. “Some of them had lost family members. The community was hit hard because of job and economic loss.”
Counselors at FDR, which has more than 3,000 students, wanted to provide students with an immediate source of support. So they moved themselves out of their office suite and into the school’s lobby and courtyard — adjacent to the cafeteria — so they would be impossible to miss. At least one counselor sits at the counseling station in the lobby throughout the day.
As students have become more comfortable with the arrangement, they’ve also begun to see the counselors as their advocates throughout the school, the staff say. Students who are struggling academically in a class, for instance, have asked counselors to help them ask for support from their teachers.
“It’s helped our big school feel like a small school, like a community, because we really do work in partnership with teachers,” says Karagach.
Because the majority of FDR’s students are still remote, counselors have also set up their own Google Classrooms. They reach out to remote students on a weekly basis and hold remote office hours for students to drop in.
“A lot of our students do feel very isolated and lonely. We work hard to create an environment where they know there’s always someone in the building who knows who they are and that they can come to,” says Karagach. “We’re lucky and grateful that our students trust us with personal, painful information, so we can help them the best that we can.”