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INDIANAPOLIS — The evolving role of school guidance counselors took center stage this week in the State Legislature’s first interim study committee on education.

Educators and parents testified to state legislators Thursday afternoon on the growing demand placed on school counselors as students’ social-emotional well-being and the state’s changing diploma requirements, known as graduation pathways, continue to add to the plate of school guidance counselors.

“Counselors are burdened with a host of non-counseling assignments,” Stephanie Crandell of the Indiana School Counselor Association told lawmakers. “The impact of multiple pathways on a school counselor’s workload is tremendous.”

Crandell warned of the effect this could have on counselors often outnumbered in Indiana schools on an average just shy of 500 counselors to every student. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250-to-1.

The Indiana State Board of Education first approved of the major shift in graduation requirements in December 2017, opening the door for a new framework of work readiness and post-secondary education preparedness requirements for all high school students seeking an Indiana diploma.

In addition to prior academic credit requirements, students must now demonstrate employability skills and meet postsecondary competency requirements through a selected path of project-, service- or work-based learning experience.

The new graduation mandates take effect with the class of 2023, meaning the first class of students to graduate under the new requirements is entering high school this year.

As schools navigate these requirements for the first time, guidance counselors across the state are increasingly being charged with ensuring each student meets these new standards through individualized graduation plans which can be especially difficult to track as students transfer schools.

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Add that to a growing need for social and emotional learning supports and community liaisons needed to attract internship, apprenticeship or other work experience opportunities now necessary for students to graduate, and the role of a school counselor grows.

“We are qualified to counsel students very much in careers, it comes down to time and resources,” said Heidi Schellinger, a guidance counselor at New Prairie High School in LaPorte County. “When I leave a building, I’m missing out on direct time with students. I have to make sure it’s something that’s valuable to me and will benefit those kids later.”

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Members of the 14-member interim study committee heard presentations from representatives of the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet, workforce innovation nonprofit Skillful and Ivy Tech Community College focusing on initiatives already in place to fund career counseling supports on a scalable level.

The Governor’s Workforce Cabinet has awarded 14 grants totaling nearly $1 million for the planning and implementation of career coaching strategies on a local level. Skillful has engaged 35 Indiana career coaches, including three school counselors, in a first-of-its-kind skills and leadership development workshop, Skillful CEO Beth Cobert said. And, Ivy Tech shared its pilot program seeking to expand career development coaching resources on six of its 18 campuses.

However, some raised concerns the three-hour meeting did little to address the issues facing high school counselors.

The purpose of the meeting as listed on its agenda was to discuss the workload, funding and fiscal impact of graduation pathways on school corporations, and was the second-such meeting on the topic in as many years, as required by legislation establishing the new graduation requirements.

“I think we have a vision, but we haven’t really put all the pieces together,” state Rep. Vernon Smith, D-Gary, said. “We’re shooting in the dark. We need to come together and create a master plan of how we’re going to get there.”

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Education Reporter

Carley Lanich covers education in Lake County and throughout the Region. She comes to Northwest Indiana from Indianapolis and is an IU-Bloomington grad.