Educator & Student Success Lead Teacher, Halton District School Board, & Member, Board of Directors, Ontario School Counsellors’ Association
Trading in high school hallways for college campuses comes with big decisions and varied emotions, but students don’t need to make the transition alone. School guidance counsellors play an important and dedicated role in providing necessary support to students preparing for life beyond high school.
The global situation and COVID-19 crisis have undoubtedly added a new layer of considerations and complexities for graduating students in their transition to post-secondary education (PSE). Graduates have new questions and may be experiencing increased anxiety, among other mental health difficulties, as they brace for new educational realities. These circumstances shine a light on the critical work of school guidance counsellors as they support and partner with students in addressing needs, removing barriers, and providing targeted bridge work for PSE.
COVID-19 measures such as self-isolation and the shift to distance learning have impacted students and families differently, often increasing risk factors. Guidance counsellors have had to be highly responsive to the changing needs of students and to focus concerted effort on engaging and serving students and families who are struggling and facing increased challenges.
Plan for the future, together
In bridging the gap and increasing equitable access to PSE, guidance counsellors work with students on developing an inquisitive and empowered approach that involves exploration, planning, and navigating supports and resources. The planning stage also includes mapping out PSE resources, including key contacts and support services and programs, from the logistics of housing and financial needs to learning supports. In response to COVID-19 closures, colleges and universities are increasingly offering new virtual opportunities for students to connect and access information, services, and resources. Using tools such as virtual information sessions and virtual campus tours, students are able to prepare for the upcoming school year without physically setting foot on campus.
Mental health and wellness are key drivers in guidance work and it’s important that students give themselves permission to be flexible, change their minds, and try new things. Some students consider taking a gap year to build skills and experience that will inform post-secondary decision-making. A gap year can take many forms such as employment, travel, volunteering, or participation in gap year programs.
Developing the skills to thrive
The future may hold more questions than answers right now, and as such, guidance counsellors are focusing on skill-building with students. Adaptability, readiness, resilience, and flexibility are going to be key indicators of success as students calibrate to new realities. In addition to a skill-building approach, guidance counsellors encourage students to cultivate a balanced and positive mindset, to manage expectations, and to practise self-care and -compassion. Students need to feel supported, be resourceful, and experience a sense of community and connectedness as they move beyond high school. In these new and complex waters, students need the reminder — perhaps now more than ever — that they’re not alone, and guidance counsellors are dedicated to bridging their transition to PSE.