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Celebrating Mercer’s School Counselors

National School Counselor Week Recognized

Burgin counselors Travis Kern and Sarah Steele have adjusted to their new roles and responsibilities.

Jennifer Marsh

Herald Staff

This week is school counselor week and Superintendent of Mercer County Schools Dennis Davis declared National School Counselor Week in Mercer on Monday, Feb. 4.

The American School Counselor Association said the special week is not meant as a time of gift-giving, but instead seeks to provide awareness to the community of school counselors who implement comprehensive school counseling programs and meet the challenges of the modern school environment.

The modern school environment is drastically different than years past according to Mercer County Intermediate School Counselor Amy Riley. She said counselors are no longer the guidance counselors from the 1970s and 1980s, when they primarily focussed on preparing high school students for college or the workforce. Modern school counselors are highly trained mental health professionals who work with the whole child, she said.

“While career counseling is still an important part of our work, especially at the high school level, school counselors are responsible for the social and emotional well-being of all students in their school,” said Riley. “Since August of this year, I have seen students for self-mutilation, grief after the death of a parent, evictions, extreme poverty, suicidal thoughts, bullying, parents with addictions and neglect.  And I work with third through fifth graders.”

Mercer Superintendent Dennis Davis, center, signing a proclamation naming this week National School Counselor Week in Mercer County Schools. Counselors Amy Riley from MCIS, Cynthia Russell from MCSH and Stacy Charles from MCES joined Davis.

Riley said there are currently 341 schools in Kentucky without a school counselor and counselors and she called counselors a missing piece in preventing school violence.

“With the list of issues facing our children today, it is nearly impossible to imagine these same children in a room learning math or reading.  If we ignore the barriers that our students face to getting an education, we often leave them behind academically,” said Riley. “Responsibilities vary based on school district and administrations. Sadly, there are still counselors who only schedule and serve as testing coordinators. Ideally, though, school counselors are delivering a comprehensive school-counseling program for all students in a school. School counselors are usually the ones who first hear of abuse, and threats and serve as mandated reporters to help get families the help and services they need.”

Burgin Independent High School Counselor Sarah Steele said counselors still have a huge role in preparing paperwork, testing and grades, but their goal is to also help children over come barriers to success.

“Some barriers are environmental like abuse or neglect. Others are emotional or social,” said Steele. “We are tasked with trying to help kids get past barriers. We can’t catch everything but we try.”

Travis Kern, Burgin’s primary school counselor, said, “The one thing that drew me to counseling is being part of a team which is focused on helping all students reach their greatest potential.  It is a broad task that requires many hats.”

On average, school counselors receive 60-plus hours of mental health training and are uniquely equipped to meet the mental health and educational needs of students. Most school counselors develop relationships with students that help facilitate trust and understanding. All five counselors agreed this is especially true in the Mercer and Burgin School Districts.

The American School Counselor Association put together six research studies showing comprehensive, data-driven school counseling programs improve a range of student learning and behavioral outcomes including raising academic standards. The studies show the importance of school counselors within the education system. The American School Counselor Association said, “School counselors are vital members of the education team and maximize student success.”

Their website outlines the many hats a counselor must wear to serve their students and has a collection of empirical data to support their claims. For more information visit

For more, including the February Mercer Magazine, check out this week’s issue of the Harrodsburg Herald.

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