National School Counseling Week is being celebrated from Feb. 5-9 this year. The job requires above-average organizational and interpersonal skills, but counselors from schools around McPherson County say the students make it worth the challenge.

Tammy Fast is the school counselor for kindergarten through 12th grade in Moundridge. Her days are filled with “all kinds of fun” as she strives to develop the students’ study and social skills.

Fast teaches a weekly counseling class for each level of kindergarten through fourth grade students.

“We just finished a goal setting unit and we are moving on to careers this month,” Fast said.

In the class, Fast works to find the interests and abilities of students and to introduce career options.

“My hope is that we will be realizing their potential and helping them set good, healthy, realistic goals,” Fast said.

Fast also assists older students.

“We have spent the last few weeks getting all 6th through 8th graders a plan of study,” Fast said.

That plan includes interest, ability and values inventories, as well as career and post-secondary education exploration.

Fast meets with Moundridge high schoolers to update the information in their plan of study as they move from their freshman year to graduation.

The spring semester is a busy one for Fast.

“We are gearing up for enrollment for the 2018-19 school year and February parent-teacher conferences,” Fast said.

Her goal is to meet with all parents of students in eighth to 11th grades.

“The focus is especially with freshman and their parents as they prepare for high school,” Fast said. “Freshman through juniors will have conferences with a teacher and their parent to look at their plan of study and what enrollment looks like for next fall.”

The support of coworkers makes being the only counselor for the Moundridge school district easier for Fast.

“I am blessed with a very supportive administration,” Fast said. “They pitch in — as does the entire staff — with our students.”

Fast said the most frustrating thing about her work is that she feel she is not able to spend “adequate” time in every school building.   

“Although the needs of our students are great, I have very little time for individual counseling of students,” Fast said. “I do more check-ins with students to try and support them as much as possible.”

Having an intern from Fort Hays State University present during this semester gives Fast additional resources.

“It’s great to have another set of eyes, ears and hands,” Fast said.

Overall, Fast said she loves working with the students in Moundridge.

“I would say it’s a hard job, but it is a rewarding job,” Fast said. “My students, staff and administration are amazing.”

Lana Charvat is in her eighth year working as a counselor Smoky Valley High School.

“When I was a senior in high school, I wanted to help people,” Charvat said. “When I would take different types of inventories, it would pop up with social work.”

Charvat decided to teach English for four years while she worked on getting a master’s degree in school counseling, which is a requirement for becoming a school counselor.

Different schools can have different job descriptions for their counselors.

“I think we wear many hats,” Charvat said.

Like many high school counselors, Charvat facilitates course planning, assessment testing and post- high school education applications, tailoring her efforts around the needs of students in each grade.

“I do spend quite a bit of my time helping students consider what they want to do in the future,” Charvat said. “I enjoy talking to them about what their dreams are and their future plans.”

Other duties in Charvat’s job include planning community service days, holding financial aid workshops, coordinating scholarship information and handling transcripts and record requests from parents and students.

“I feel very fortunate. This is a great community,” Charvat said. “I really appreciate the people I work with and the kids I work with.”

Charvat also handles individual counseling responsibilities.

“Our teachers do a great job of talking to students if they need someone, so I feel like I get more of the crisis situations,” Charvat said.

Those situations can be anything from a student having suicidal thoughts to communicating a need for basic resources such as food and water.

“I think one of the things I see as a challenge is when there’s an issue and sometimes I can help and make a difference, but sometimes the issue is bigger than me,” Charvat said.

Charvat said she has had to learn that she cannot fix every problem.

“Sometimes we have students that, as much as we want to help them figure out their future, have a hard time taking that initiative,” Charvat said.

Still, she thinks she has a positive influence on Smoky Valley High School students.

“I really like helping students, in general,” Charvat said. “I do enjoy when they come and talk to me about what they’re struggling with and helping them work through that. I like them leaving my office feeling better.”

In her time at Smoky Valley High School, Charvat has seen siblings go through the grades and said she appreciates seeing the individual talents each brings with them.

“It’s always good to see them when they pop back in,” Charvat said.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.