The triumphs and crises her Washington Middle School students experience motivate school counselor Takiyah Jackson M.Ed. '03 to campaign for their well-being.
Their voices are with her always: “I'm having trouble at school because another family member of mine was killed.”
“I'm hungry because my family is living out of a car and has no money to eat.”
A sympathetic advocate for children in crisis, Jackson also aims to address the needs of every student to gain essential life skills. She works with students in groups on such important skills as conflict resolution, bullying prevention, and goal-setting.
“Middle school is an important developmental time, and all students should benefit from a counseling program,” she emphasizes. With a more complex role, today's school counselor must possess a bigger toolkit for addressing the academic, social, and emotional issues faced by young people.
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School counselor Takiyah Jackson (standing) meets with a group of students to discuss personal interests and goal- setting. “The skills kids develop now can help direct their adult life behaviors and experiences,” she says.;
“It's a new day,” says Cher Edwards, associate professor of school counseling at SPU. “Now school counselors use data to guide and drive their responses to student needs.”
They conduct schoolwide assessments and gain the perceptions of students, teachers, parents,
and other constituents in order to take informed action on the things that can trouble students and affect their academic performance.
Jackson uses “climate surveys,” in which students express their degree of connection to school and the areas where they need improvement. In collaboration with school staff, parents, and community partners such as the YMCA, those concerns are addressed through support mechanisms — peer mediation, counseling groups, bully prevention programs, and more.
Because of state and district budgets, Jackson is responsible for 400 seventh grade students, nearly twice the recommended load. Undeterred, she rolls up her sleeves. “In some cases, we actually save lives,” she says. When students come back and tell her so, their struggles move her to further action. “I can help develop the tools students need to navigate the roads of life.”
She works at it in school and out. She explores career options with students and teaches them not to be trapped by their circumstances. She helps them set goals and understand their emotions.
And then she fights for them. She attends Seattle School Board meetings, addresses persistent
threats to cut funding, and asks the board the price of a child's life. Without counselors, she argues, the personal crises will escalate “and bleed into school cultures and academics.”
Jackson believes in “whole child” education, calling much of what she does “adaptive innovation.” Once she and a teacher arranged a field trip in conjunction with a local salon and took children normally lacking such opportunities to get their hair done for school pictures and learn about fashion as a career.
Jackson says she has never known burnout. “We do all the things we can to help support what the kids need.”