BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ -- Bernards Township middle school guidance counselors spend about 60 percent of their one-on-one time dealing with issues associated with the maturing adolescent.

At Ridge High School, however, more than three-quarters of counselors’ direct services time is spent dealing with academic or post-secondary issues like college.

Stephanie Smith, director of school counseling, talked to the Bernards Township Board of Education on April 1 about the amount and spectrum of topics that fill the days of school counselors.

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At William Annin Middle School, developmental and social issues account for about one-third of student visits, and mental health issues another one-quarter. Roughly another quarter concern academic issues.

Of the 26 percent of cases counselors see for mental health issues, the overwhelming majority – 83 percent—are for symptoms of anxiety, Smith said.

Academic issues take up the most direct services time for high school counselors, at 42 percent.  Plans for what to do after high school account for another 34 percent of time spent.

Compared to WAMS, half as many students at Ridge High see the counselor for so-called mental health issues. Only about one in eight visits fell in that category, Smith said, with three-quarters of those for anxiety (44 percent) and depressions (31 percent). Another 16 percent were called “crisis” visits.

There was a dramatic drop in visits to student assistance counselors at Ridge High, falling to 300 from 544 in the previous year, Smith’s report showed.  The number of cases deemed “mental health” fell to 204 in 2017-18, compared to 281 in the 2016-17 school year. Substance abuse cases ticked up to 16 from previous year’s five.

WAMS counselors reported seeing children learn how to cope with change and develop skills in resiliency and how to manage problems in ways like conflict resolution and brainstorming sessions. They saw kids being caring and concerned for friends in trouble and being more willing to alert a counselor to a friend’s problem.

Ridge High counselors said students were learning to cope with disappointment and avoid stress. There seemed to be atmosphere of “all or nothing” thinking or “I’m not good enough,” said a comment in Smith’s report. Counselors saw students developing communication skills with teachers as well as peers who had hurt them. Students were said to be open and willing to share and try new ideas.

“My students are unbelievable,” commented one counselor. “They are always willing to support each other.”

“The fact that students reach out and ask for help is incredibly important,” one “soundbite” from a counselor said. “The stigma that seeing a counselor (whether in or outside school) seems to be diminishing.”