Counsellor’s Corner: It Takes a Village: Guidance and School Council Working Together

There is an African proverb that states, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  The proverb is telling us that we should not raise our children in isolation and alludes to the benefits of sharing in the development of our children as a community. Leaning on one another for help, advice, and a sense of community gives our children a sense of stability and provides them with multiple people to reach out to in times of need. As a village, we work together to raise healthy and well cared for children.  The same can be said for our school system in that it does not run independently of other systems.  As a school, we get curriculum and initiatives from our Ministry of Education, programs and processes are in place and delivered by our school board, input from our trustees, and within our schools, all of our departments rely on each other to help graduate students who are confident, hard working, balanced and healthy citizens.  We rely on various committees, extra-curricular activities, sports teams and clubs to nurture and develop student creativity, activism, athleticism, and individual and collective strengths. 

One important committee in our community is our school council.  Our current committee chair is Jennifer Cazabon, a mother of four. She has chaired both elementary and secondary school councils and brings with her a wealth of knowledge and a passion for the well-being of all our students and the school community as a whole.  Ms Cazabon has served as Parent Council Chair at the elementary level for nine years and at the secondary level for three years, two of which were as vice-chair.  This is Ms. Cazabon’s first year as chair of our school council and we are blessed to have such a knowledgeable, approachable and passionate parent in this role.  Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down and consult with Ms Cazabon for this article. 

St Marcellinus School Chair, Jennifer Cazabon and Department Head of Guidance, Anna Macri. – Credit: Katie McInnes

Ultimately, the role of the school council serves as an avenue of communication between the parent community and school administration.  Both the principal and the chair equally facilitate this communication in many ways, including email, monthly chats in person and by phone.  Members of student council are also invited to meetings to present upcoming student events as well as student concerns. In this manner, positive and proactive dialogue is encouraged and welcomed by the administration, parent, and student community. Ms. Cazabon stressed the importance of communication between the parent community and the administration as key to the success of the school council.  Parents need to know and be made aware of the chair, her role, and how to access her so that she may be the voice of the parent community.  The St. Marcellinus School Council also provides an opportunity for the school staff to communicate with parents about events, curriculum and issues affecting the community.  Likewise, parents who live in the school community offer the school administrative team vital information about the community, for example, the increase of vaping incidents in the community.  With a student body of 1,800, it can be challenging to get information out to the entire community.  School council is one way to increase these vital channels of communication. 

However, there is a role for the Guidance Department to play as well in relation to the school council.  Many years ago, when I first became a Guidance Counsellor, my role was to help students with course selection and prepare them for post-secondary destinations.  Over the years, the role of guidance has seen tremendous shifts in services and an increase in the breadth and depth of our knowledge regarding post-secondary programs and pathways, and in-school and community-based support service programs.  Not only do we continue to assist students with course selection and post-secondary planning, we are also bombarded and overwhelmed with other issues: rising mental health concerns experienced by some of our students on a daily basis; family financial challenges; students whose parents are separating; cases of abuse, and the list goes on.  Our counsellors are given training offered to us by our school board and we connect regularly with our in-school support team members – our Child and Youth Workers and Social Workers.  However, more and more, parents are reaching out for supports as well, and the school Guidance Department is usually the first phone call they make when in need of information to help their child who may be hurting, struggling academically, socially and/or emotionally. 

Many parents are not familiar with resources available to their children both in and out of the school.  This is where an open and communicative relationship with school council is necessary.  The school council’s relationship with Guidance is a significant one.  At our school, Guidance has been invited to present to our school council.  Guidance has given presentations to school council on a number of topics, including myBlueprint workshops, presentations on how parents can help their children plan their future,  and on how guidance works with the different grades at various times of the year.

When I asked Ms Cazabon how she viewed the role of Guidance in connection with school council, she offered some terrific insights.  First, she mentioned that it would be helpful for parents – of Grade 9 students especially –for Guidance to attend the first school council meeting. This would be helpful mainly because many of these parents may not be aware of how a high school operates and may be unfamiliar with all the dates, processes, programs and timelines connected to the school year.  This would be a wonderful opportunity for Guidance to speak to the course selection process, the important dates for parents to be aware of, and the mental health support services offered not only within the school, but within the community as well.  This would also be a natural time to define the role of the high school Guidance Counsellor and to introduce the school council to the Guidance Team.  Ms Cazabon did mention that the first meeting typically attracts the most parents, so this would be an important one to attend.

Another strategy to help connect guidance and school council would be to invite the school Social Worker and Child and Youth Worker to attend a school council meeting to help educate parents on mental health services outside of the school.  Many parents turn to the school for mental health support, but on the weekends, holiday and summer breaks, many parents may not know how to access external support for their children.  The Guidance Support team can act as a conduit to get that information out to the parents at a school council meeting.

At the end of the day, we are all in this together.  That African proverb has and always will be true.  We can exist in our silos and survive, but when we all help each other, through the good times and bad, we can thrive.  The relationship our school and our guidance department has with school council is a relationship we should nurture and continue to strive to develop, for the betterment and success of our priority: our students.

Anna Macri has spent most of her 20 years in education in Guidance and Career Education. She recently took on the position of Department Head of Guidance at St. Marcellinus Secondary School, in Mississauga, Ontario.