Depending on the student population, Wernecke Elementary’s two counselors each take on about 400 kids in a school year. Other elementary campuses in the Sharyland Independent School District only have one counselor, also depending on the student population.
But starting in August, the elementaries will have extra sets of eyes and ears on staff.
In May, Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, announced that Sharyland ISD will receive almost $1.2 million in federal funding over the next three years from the Department of Education. The bulk of the funds will be used to hire four new counselors who will travel between SISD’s elementary campuses and aid the existing counselors.
“Sometimes it’s hard to see many students individually,” Wernecke Counselor Erika Gonzalez said. “We’re going to be able to have people helping us build relationships and make a connection with those students.”
Gonzalez works with primarily at-risk students, which encompasses English Language Learners and students who have been in the Alternative Education Program.
The 37-year-old was an ELL student herself. She was raised in Mexico, learned English at 17 years old and went to college to become a teacher, but had a dream of becoming a counselor. She wanted to help the students who also came to the states and struggled to learn English.
“You have no idea of the things that we see, what we hear –- the family problems,” Gonzalez said. “But when the students go see us and tell us about their problems and what’s happening at home, and we’re able to help them, it makes me so happy.”
Texas recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of about 450-to-1, according to Interim Superintendent Filomena Leo. Gonzalez and her counseling partner Susan Meijerink try to see anywhere from three to four students a day. Their focus is helping students feel comfortable in their current environment, in spite of what happens in their home life, Gonzalez said.
“The students that are at-risk will tell you that they have no real purpose in life or that they don’t feel needed or that they don’t feel loved,” the Wernecke counselor said. “When we’re able to tell them that we care about them at our school, that we will always be there, it makes it special for them.”
According to Leo, the grant was written to target students that have identified as being at-risk of failure and students who come from families that are economically disadvantaged by federal standards. The intent is to lower the student ratio to every counselor to provide more services, more often.
Students just want to be heard, Gonzalez said. Teachers have anywhere from 22 to 25 students in classroom and parental involvement is a factor, but the counselor said she has seen students improve just from daily visits to her office.
“The fact that they can go at the end of the day to a counselor and talk to us for 10 minutes about their day, it’s important,” Gonzalez said. “Their confidence grows and it makes them feel better.”