Tyler ISD's guidance and counseling program is in place to help ensure that students are socially and emotionally ready to learn academically, Leigh Anne Barber, who is in her first year as director of guidance and counseling, said.
Guidance counselors not only work with students but with teachers, staff, parents and members of the community promoting the educational, career, personal, social and emotional development of students, Ms. Barber said.
She works with the district's 41 counselors — 19 elementary counselors, eight middle school counselors and 14 high school counselors — in developing the guidance and counseling program.
There is a huge benefit from the district having counselors, Ms. Barber said.
"If students' social and emotional needs are not met, it's very difficult for them to learn academically," she said.
If they are going through something at home or with a friend, having a counselor to support them is a benefit and also to support the teachers and administration and everyone on campus, Ms. Barber said.
"Counselors stay very busy and wear a lot of different hats," she said. Many counselors help students academically, but their No. 1 responsibility is to meet students' social and emotional needs, Ms. Barber said.
Counselors help with keeping schools safe, and they work with the community and parents, she said.
All of the counselors meet with students individually who are struggling or have a social or emotional need, Ms. Barber said.
In the elementary schools, Ms. Barber said, counselors conduct guidance lessons and work on character building and character education. They emphasize a different character trait every six weeks.
They also promote bullying awareness, teaching lessons on not being a victim and being nice to each other, Ms. Barber said.
Some counselors go into classrooms to deliver lessons and some counselors pull students out of class into their office for lessons.
"Another thing we do in elementary school is have a lot of emphasis on getting kids ready for college and the workforce. That journey starts in pre-kindergarten," Ms. Barber said.
That emphasis comes during guidance lessons and in observance of college and career day at every elementary school, she said.
Starting in the middle school, counselors meet with all eighth-grade students to determine a pathway and a career endorsement for what kind of career they are interested in, Ms. Barber said.
Middle school counselors also conduct guidance lessons with classes.
In high school, there is more emphasis on college and career readiness, and counselors meet with every pupil to make sure students are on track for graduation and are taking the correct class and on the right direction for graduation, Ms. Barber said.
Besides working with the counselors, Ms. Barber said, she is working with the community to build a connection to the community and schools to help social and emotional needs of students.
"I'm working a lot on career and college readiness; I'm always researching and looking for programs that will better help students. I'm always looking for better programs for bullying awareness, for social and emotional growth of kids and to be supportive to the counselors and … teachers and the schools," Ms. Barber said.
She developed a loss and bereavement plan for the district in the event it is needed and is looking at developing a district-wide character education program.
"We are researching which one would best fit Tyler; every school will have more of the same program," she said.
In connection with character building, counselors design programs to help children stay safe online, Ms. Barber said.
Ms. Barber meets with counselors once a month to provide training and professional development.
Counselors go to all kinds of meetings and serve on committees to support the education process and help students be successful academically, Ms. Barber said.
She helped organize a backpack program through the East Texas Food Bank in which some children take backpacks home with food.
"I'm very glad to be in Tyler ISD, and I'm very impressed with the district and I just want to keep moving forward with the counseling program," Ms. Barber said.
"My love is counseling. My goal was always to be a director of guidance and counseling, so I could be a part of helping all students of all ages, so when this position came open in Tyler, it's very exciting to me (to be) in such a progressive, large district."
Ms. Barber, 41, is in her 20th year in education. Jacksonville ISD employed her for 14 years – five years as a teacher and nine years as a school counselor. She was also a school counselor in Whitehouse five years.
Ms. Barber attended Stephen F. Austin State University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies in elementary education, a teaching certificate and a master's degree in school counseling. She is a licensed professional counselor and has a principal's certification from The University of Texas at Tyler.