Left to right: Sharon Wilborn, Laura Rankhorn, Kim Crumbley and CCBOE Counseling Coordinator Karen Pinion at the 2018 ALACTE Professional Development Conference. Photo courtesy Karen Pinion/CCBOE
CULLMAN – It has been a busy year for the counseling staff of the Cullman County Board of Education (CCBOE), increasing the number of social workers on staff, offering more career tools to students, helping train a new generation of counselors across the state, and landing a rare invitation to talk about what they’re doing at an upcoming national conference.
The Tribune sat down this week with CCBOE Counseling Coordinator Karen Pinion, who shared:
“I don’t think that enough people know about all the phenomenal things going on in our county. And I’m an advocate of students, but I’m an advocate of our counselors, as well. So, we have a great partnership with the State Department (of Education). Our person that’s over us, Sean Stevens, and Wanda Langley, have great working relationships. So myself and some of our counselors have started working with them, offering professional development.
“So, this started way back when, but it really caught fire this summer when we presented at the Alabama Career Tech Conference, which is really a worthy conference in itself. And on that day, some counselors and myself presented on career exploration for elementary, which is phenomenal, because again we want kids to start thinking what they want to do, and ‘if I’m good at this’ or ‘if I don’t like this,’ you know, kind of narrowing those things down.”
The CCBOE counseling team made a presentation at the tech conference using a state-of-the-art virtual reality (VR) system, using VR goggles and Google Expeditions, which allow students to take 3D virtual tours of various workplace environments.
Pinion continued, “From that, one of our counselors that presented with us went on to write a proposal to the American School Counseling Association (ASCA) about presenting this summer in Boston at the national conference. It was a long shot: the presenters are highly renowned doctoral types people or whatever. But the presentation this summer with the state department was just so amazing.
“Anyway, the proposal was accepted. And there’s not, to my knowledge, ever been a group of counselors (from the Cullman area) who’ve had this proposal accepted. So they were accepted–of course, there’s a lot of requirements or whatever–but they will travel to Boston, and they are going to present at the ASCA national conference, and then they’re going to take our VR goggles from our technology department here–which is amazing–and they’re going to present on that national level with those people. So it’s really amazing.”
At the ASCA national conference on June 29 to July 2, 2019, Holly Pond Elementary School Counselor Laura Rankhorn and Parkside Counselor Kim Crumbley will present “Making Your Career Lessons ‘Virtually’ Awesome.”
CCBOE counselors also presented this week at the Alabama Counseling Association’s New Counselor Academy in Birmingham, leading a session on “Best Practices for Counselors” which included integration of social workers, school culture and climate, and high school counseling pointers.
Not just career coaches: increasing response to personal and family crises
In an era of growing numbers of issues with student mental health, substance abuse and family crises, school counselors have in many cases been dismissed as mere career coaches who lack either the ability or the interest to deal with students’ personal problems. While it is true that most school counselors are not degreed psychologists or certified therapists, the CCBOE is taking steps to offer more help to students in crisis through the hiring of in-house social workers and partnerships with community mental health and advocacy agencies.
Pinion explained, “People may not know that our system is one of very few that has three social workers now, just because of all the dire mental health issues that are going on within our system. Parents may or may not know where to turn for help, teachers may or may not know how to help kids with this, but we have formed a great partnership with those counselors and our social workers.
“So, we have a lot of great things going on, and I just don’t know that everybody really knows all the opportunities for kids within the counseling program at a school at all, but if they did, it would be advantageous for them, because there’s so many things that they may, you know–‘Hey, I don’t know about this service,’ but the social worker can link us up with those, or the school counselor can. So I would just like for everybody to know what we can help with, what’s available to them, because that’s really what our purpose is: we’re really there to advocate for kids and families.”
In addition to its staff social workers, CCBOE partners with other agencies to serve the needs of students:
- WellStone Behavioral Health – mental health, suicide prevention
- The Bridge – substance abuse recovery geared specifically toward teens
- Brooks’ Place – advocacy services for abused children
- Cullman County Juvenile Probation
- Cullman County judges
Pinion said about her staff, “We have amazing counselors, men and women, and I really feel like they are the hardest working people that I know of. And I’m the counseling coordinator, but truthfully, I guess I get to reap all the benefits, because they’re doing more work than I can ever imagine, that they’re doing on their part.
“Another thing that makes us so successful is that we have a wonderful relationship with Brooks’ Place, a child advocacy center. They come in and do a law that’s actually required by the state of Alabama–many states have it–it’s called Erin’s Law, and it’s about Erin Merryn, and it’s about mandatory reporting of sexual abuse.”
Pinion shared about the roles of Cullman County Judges Gregory Nicholas, Rusty Turner and Martha Williams:
“They go out to our schools and meet with our kids on Erin’s Law, and talk about suicide prevention as well, which is another requirement that we’re required by the state to do–K through 12–which is definitely needed.
“But I just think between all the different things we’ve got coming into our school system, you know, the ability to help kids has never been greater, and I just want people to know that.”
If you have a need
The CCBOE counseling team encourages students in crisis to contact their school counselors. If you do not feel comfortable talking to the counselor or you feel better connected to a particular teacher, coach or staff member, please talk that person. CCBOE faculty and staff have been familiarized with procedures for helping kids find the help they need. If you are feeling overwhelmed, please reach out.
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