The high school senior sitting across from Franciene Sabens was in tears over the abrupt amputation of her social life and turmoil at home. Because of the coronavirus, there will be no prom, no traditional send-off or ceremony for the graduates of Carbondale Community High School in Carbondale, Ill. And Sabens, one of the school’s counselors, could not give the girl the one thing Sabens’ gut told her the teen needed most.
“I want to hug them all, but I really wanted to hug that one,” Sabens remembers.
Instead of a desk between counselor and student, there were miles of Internet cable and a computer screen. No hug. No private office. This is Sabens’ new normal.
“Zoom is just not gonna ever bridge that gap,” she says. “That one was pretty rough.”
The job of the school counselor has evolved over the years, from academic guide to something deeper: the adult in a school tasked with fostering students’ social and emotional growth, a mental health first responder and a confidant for kids, especially teens, who often need a closed door and a sympathetic ear. But the closure of nearly all U.S. schools has forced counselors like Sabens to reimagine how they can do their jobs. And the stakes have never been higher.
NPR spoke with counselors across the country, from California to Georgia, Oklahoma to Ohio, and nearly all said they worry about even the best-case scenario — when they’re able to connect with a student face-to-face using video chat technology.