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Stephanie Durnford: Making an Impact on Students...and on me

By Stephanie Durnford, PhD, LCPC, NCC
Though I am not new to Loyola, I began as faculty in the School Counseling program in Fall 2021. It wasn’t until Spring 2022, while serving as one of three university faculty supervisors, that I had the amazing fortune to see our school counseling interns in action. In an earlier post (Loyola’s School Counseling program creates new site supervisor training program), readers of the School of Education blog were introduced to the supports that the School Counseling program has been offering to site supervisors. Today, I’d like to highlight the amazing work that I’ve witnessed as a university supervisor. I both got to see the work our students do during internship, but also seen the impact that our interns have in their placements.

There have been major shifts in the roles and responsibilities of school counselors, especially with structured – or tiered – models of school intervention. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) highlights the various hats that school counselors can wear to help facilitate student success in and out of the classroom. Additionally, the past two and a half years of the COVID-19 pandemic have changed how we think about mental health, particularly for children and adolescents. The pandemic served as an unmasking of the increasing need for mental health support for children and adolescents. Throughout internship supervision in the Spring 2022 semester, our interns have noted the deep need for students to acclimate back to in-person learning and relationship building. This is on top of the hats they wear to help students with academic success, college/career planning, and social-emotional learning. Our interns provide that multi-tier, multi-domain support, whether through classroom lessons, group, or one-on-one counseling.

Through their internship experiences, school counseling students have been at the forefront of helping students adjust to their return to in-person school. In the Spring of 2022, second semester 300-hour intern Catharine Anders described a particularly powerful experience with a student. “I have had many positive experiences as an intern, but I am most proud of being able to identify a student as learning disabled and refer [them] to the special education team for assessment. Since being referred, [they] qualified for special education services and [their] academic programming at school has shifted. The student is relieved to have the support that has been missing and is the most optimistic about [their] future than [they] ever have been.” Mrs. Anders noted that this student is in ninth grade; this change will deeply impact the student’s future. Additionally, Mrs. Anders credits the School Counseling program’s “focus on data collection and time in Professor Martin's Special Education class” as essential to noticing trends for the student and recognizing symptoms. “As an intern, I can confidently say that I impacted a child's life for the better,” she noted.

This focus on data collection is not only from observations and surveys, but also collaborating and interviewing administrators, teachers, and other staff in the building. This helps our interns identify the specific needs for their sites’ students, whether for resources, supports, academic achievement, or social-emotional learning.  Watching our interns wear all of these hats and navigate the challenges of doing mental health work in a world still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic, I continue to be amazed. Our interns skillfully make connections and use interventions to help their students build resilience, navigate challenges, and help students stay on track toward their academic and personal goals. They have described the challenges and rewards of the work in our internship classes, leaning on their supervision group for support and celebrating the wins through it all. I’ve been privileged to celebrate along with them.