Thousands of teachers and staff in Chicago have been on strike for nearly two weeks, demanding every school in the district get its own counselor to help students deal with daily trauma.“A teacher cannot teach in a classroom with 30-something kids where you have 10 or 15 who have dealt with trauma in their life – they cannot focus on the classroom,” said one counselor.
The American School Counselor Association and the National Association of Social Workers recommend one social worker and one counselor for every 250 students. Chicago, the third-largest school district in the nation, has about one counselor for every 444 students and one social worker for every 1,238 students. “Our school has a high poverty level,” says social worker Cathy Mizicko. “There will be a shooting near one of the student’s apartments, so they come in having to deal with that.”
Chicago is one of the most dangerous cities in the US, with a murder rate of 0.28. To put that into perspective, there were 777 homicides in 2016, 660 in 2017, and 561 last year. “I have students who have had family members killed or shot over the years, and I have lost students due to the trauma and the violence in the City of Chicago,” said one counselor, speaking to protestors last week at City Hall.“If someone just got shot over the weekend, or you’re going hungry or you don’t have the appropriate resources in your home, you’re not going to come to school and say, ‘Oh, let me listen to this math lesson or this reading lesson.’ You’re not thinking about that. And that’s when the students start acting out in the classroom.”
Without adequate mental health staff, students who misbehave receive punishment instead of treatment. “[We need to be] helping kids deal with conflict and helping them overcome those things instead of having punitive consequences,” says Linette Morales, an instructional support leader who travels between 19 Chicago schools. “Instead of suspending kids, [we should be] giving them the support to see what the underlying issue is, to see why they are behaving in those manners.”