School counselors in Iowa have more students than what's recommended

MARION, Iowa (KCRG) - School counselors across the nation are being assigned hundreds of students to serve including in Iowa, where the student to counselor ratio is above what is recommended.

Students at Linn-Mar before the start of the school day on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019 (Jackie Kennon/KCRG)

The National Association for College Admission Counseling recommends a ratio of 250 students to one counselor. Iowa has on average 417 students per counselor, which puts the state on the higher end compared to states across the country. The national average is around 350.

Sheryl Cline, Iowa School Counselor Association President, is in her fifth year as a counselor at Linn-Mar High School. She helps around 370 students there.

“Every day is very different,” Cline said. “Today I'm spending some time in classrooms doing some college and career development, so we're going to be doing some career research and college research.”

Different schools in the district have different experiences.

“At Linn-Mar it really varies, we have one counselor for every elementary school. So we have one school that sits at over 600 kids, we have one school counselor for just over 600 kids,” Leisa Breitfelder, executive director of student services at Linn-Mar, said.

Only New Hampshire, Vermont, and Wyoming meet that recommended lower ratio, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

“They see when schools have those ratios – students are achieving at higher levels, they have higher ACT scores, they have better attendance, less behavioral issues,” Cline said.

Counselors also have a different curriculum for the age of students they serve.

“Elementary school counselors are going into classrooms, and providing lessons, and providing that core curriculum around social-emotional learning for students,” Breitfelder said.

Cline previously worked at a rural district, and for a while, was the only counselor for kindergarten through 12th grade. She encouraged administrators there to hire another counselor, and they did.

“Different age groups need different things,” Cline explained.

Ultimately, Cline says she's there to help students. However she can, and however many she can.

“I love working with kids and seeing them change, and grow, and develop,” Cline said. “When they have those wins, it doesn't always happen or I don't always know about it, but when I do, it's very rewarding as a counselor.”

There's also a student assistance team at Linn-Mar, which helps to take on some of the responsibilities a counselor would normally be faced with, including coordinating efforts with mental health agencies in the community.