Meet a School Counselor

| Staff Writers

Students can experience a myriad of social, academic, and emotional pressures. School counselors at the K-12 level help learners overcome these challenges and find success in school and their lives.

For example, elementary school children may need help adjusting to school and developing social skills, while middle school children can face physiological changes, and may experience bullying and insecurity. High school students may need advice on their future educational and career directions and seek academic help as their workloads increase.

Students of all ages may struggle with poverty, homelessness, family problems, behavioral issues, and substance abuse. Counselors also work with school staff, teachers, and families on coordinated plans to assist students in need.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects school counselors to see an 8% job growth between 2018-28 due to increased enrollment. While each state’s criteria varies, most require these counselors to hold a master’s degree in school counseling or a similar field. Public school counselors need a state-issued certification, endorsement, or license. Some jurisdictions require a teaching license or classroom experience.

Nicara McKenzie, MS

Nicara McKenzie, MS

Nicara McKenzie earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Memphis, majoring in psychology with a minor in sociology. Thereafter, McKenzie pursued her master’s in school counseling from Capella University and successfully completed her program in 2019. Currently, she is a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership program at Capella University. Professionally, McKenzie began her career as a research assistant in the psychology department at the University of Memphis. As a research assistant, she uncovered her true passion for helping others and assisting to destigmatize marginalized populations.

Nicara currently works as a school social worker in Memphis, Tennessee.

  • Why did you choose to become a school counselor?

    My decision to become a school counselor was derived from balancing factors. I knew I wanted to work with youth, but I did not necessarily want to be in the private sector setting. So, I researched various careers and school counseling resonated best.

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  • What made you interested in working with students specifically?

    Reflecting back on my personal experiences, school was a place in which I thrived. It was important to me to “pay it forward” and to be a beacon of light and support for students in the community I was raised. Students are the foundation of our future. My current work allows me to provide support and mentorship to a diverse group of students. I consider it my privilege to witness my students’ growth and observe their expansion of knowledge. The nature of the relationship is symbiotic, as they not only receive therapeutic intervention from me, but I have an opportunity to learn from them, as well.

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  • What do you find most rewarding about your career?

    The most rewarding aspect of my career is witnessing progress. I find it incredible to see the individual differences and growth that occurs over the course of an academic year. Their process also allows me to see my students incorporating strategies and coping skills that we discuss; being part of this is truly invaluable.

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  • What are some of the greatest challenges you face day to day?

    The most weighing challenge is that while I work diligently to support my students, they ultimately have to carry the load themselves. Reciprocity of the counseling process may not set in with that student in the time I have with them. The four years of high school may just not be enough. I find that despite how productive my role is as a school counselor, there will not be favorable outcomes all the time. While it can be challenging, I find solace in knowing that I may be planting seeds that they will water in the future.

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  • Why are dedicated counselors in schools so important?

    The authenticity of counselors is the backbone to an effective school. The work of a school counselor is never ending. The dedication to the role makes it worthwhile. I am a firm believer that a little bit can go a long way, but a thoughtful gesture never fades. I associate that quote with being a counselor. Sure, we can see students for five minutes, encourage them as they pass in the hallway … but the true essence of care and being dedicated will never be forgotten.

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  • As the public calls for greater investment in social services across our communities, particularly in schools, what are some of the ways that school counselors can be further supported?

    The best support for a school counselor would be to have more people informed and aware that the students we serve are people. Yes, they are young, but they have feelings, temperaments, opinions that deserve to be acknowledged. If people outside of the schools, family members, community members, and stakeholders could promote improving young people’s social emotional health, including their own, that would be the greatest support. Awareness of these issues has the ability to be curative.

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  • What advice would you give to those considering a career as a school counselor?

    My advice to any future or potential school counselors would be, “Grow through what you go through.” There will be challenges, obstacles, fatigue, but despite the aforementioned, you will be gaining more experience. The growth is immeasurable and definitely worth the process of going through. Also, join professional organizations and attend training workshops. It will help to have a supportive professional network and guide through the internship process.

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