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School Counselors and Psychologists Remain Scarce Even as Needs Rise

Pine Grove Area High School, located in a small town in eastern Pennsylvania by the same name, closed its school building for the pandemic on Friday the 13th back in March 2020. In the nearly two years since, the social isolation, followed by the carousel of a hybrid schedule and the jolt of returning fully to school in person, has been hard on students’ mental health.

Then came this autumn, when two students died by suicide within three weeks of one another, sending shock waves through the rural community. No one, said Pine Grove’s principal, Michael Janicelli, is left untouched by that kind of tragedy in a small town and school.

Pine Grove High has two full-time school counselors helping the school’s 500 students handle the emotional fallout from all this—or had. Now Janicelli is searching for a replacement for one counselor who is leaving for another job while his students are still coping with so much grief. Janicelli’s school also has access to the district’s two school psychologists who are there to step in at times of crisis, he said, but day-to-day they are mostly focused on special education.

The mental health and well-being of children and teenagers have been driven to a breaking point nationwide by the pandemic and the isolation, disruption, fear, and grief it has brought with it. At the same time, many K-12 schools across the country lack enough school psychologists and counselors to respond to the mounting mental health needs of their students.

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