When COVID-19 first hit our community, Frisco Independent School District (ISD) in Texas made the shift to online, and I immediately began planning a virtual counseling program to ensure the well-being of our 63,000 students.

The virtual counseling program has continued to serve us well. For the 2020–21 school year, Frisco ISD families have the choice between on-campus or virtual instruction—and we’re able to provide counseling services to all students, regardless of modality.

Through a mix of curriculum, staff training, remote counseling support, and parent outreach, our counselors can maintain connections with students and families. We are still working to provide students with academic support, planning for college and/or career, and resources for personal and social development. Consider these four tips to establish remote counseling and support students’ postsecondary plans.

Tip #1: Prepare a Comprehensive Plan

Connect with staff members to ensure they have what they need to be successful, including technology and emotional support. I used the American School Counselor Association’s distance learning guide and adapted the guidelines to fit our district’s needs. First, I helped each of our site’s counselors set up virtual offices, which included getting them up to speed with resources like Google Voice, Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Google Classroom.

I suggest outlining what services each school site must provide and resources that teachers, students, and families can reference. Establish timelines and tasks that need to be completed each week.

Encourage staff and remind them that this is a unique opportunity to promote their school’s counseling programs and the important role that school counselors play.

Tip #2: Create a Resource Hub

The pandemic has reinforced the importance of having information and resources available digitally. As with most districts, Frisco ISD maintains a COVID-19 hub with updates and resources for families and staff. FAQ pages cover essential details for families, including academic planning info, details about on-campus and virtual instruction protocols, and active cases.

Our guidance and counseling department information page (see www.friscoisd.org/departments/guidance-and-counseling/home) includes important resources regarding academic advisement, counseling, and social-emotional learning.

Tip #3: Maintain ‘Business as Usual’

A core tenet of our district’s virtual approach is to preserve the familiar elements of in-person appointments. Students have dealt with a lot of change in their personal and academic lives, so it’s important that counseling departments maintain business as usual.

“My goal is to let our students and parents know that we are here for them during this surreal experience,” says Alma Campo, a counselor at Memorial High School in Frisco, TX. “Even though we aren’t at school, our objective is always the same: How can we best serve our Warriors? COVID-19 hasn’t hindered our ability to genuinely care for them.”

Once COVID-19 hit, our district started sending an email newsletter each Sunday to parents. Each message included links to the week’s lessons and students’ counselors. Communication has remained a key priority. “We’ve communicated with students using mass emails, Remind texts, phone calls, and Zoom meetings with individual students or parents,” says Leigh Casares, counselor at Frisco High School. “Being available and easily accessible for students and parents … has eased some of the uncertainty.”

Encourage students to think independently about their next steps. Our overarching rubric for counseling lessons requires a real-world connection, so that students can envision learning as a pathway to their future plans.

Most importantly, strive for simplicity. The harm that educators can run into is believing that content and volume somehow equal quality. Instead, focus on the value of conversation and interaction. Accessibility and ease of implementation directly relate to the clarity of your plan.

Tip #4: Plan for the Future

To best support students for what may come next, address current and potential challenges and encourage conversation. It’s equally important to maintain communication with parents and guardians.

If you haven’t already, develop a long-term infrastructure that each campus can apply this fall and beyond. Registration and other processes that pass through counseling offices might require some updating, and college and career readiness resources must be available digitally.

Our counselors are available to support families with coronavirus-related challenges, and our regular counseling processes are still in place to prepare students for life after graduation.

In August, we distributed a guidance and counseling survey to families, which allowed them to share what they’d like to learn more about. One of the main topics parents expressed interest in was college and career preparation.

It’s important that resources for college and career are accessible. Frisco ISD uses the following resources to help students plan for college, military service, or career.

  • Xello is a future readiness platform that provides resources that allow students to explore how their interests, strengths, and personalities align to post­secondary opportunities.
  • Texas Oncourse offers various tools and info, including activities for middle level students and how Texas high school graduation plans can translate into careers.
  • BigFuture provides timely strategies for self-​assessment and info about applying to and paying for college.
  • CareerOneStop is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor and offers resources for career exploration, training, and job searching.

Whether your district is online, hybrid, or in person this school year, academic and personal counseling services need to be accessible.

Our district’s mission is to know every student by name and need—a mission that’s become increasingly important during the pandemic. Hard work and a mindset shift are required for a successful distance learning plan. By remaining responsive to the needs of students and families, you can exceed expectations and ensure every learner is set up for future success.

Stephanie Cook, EdD, LPC, is the managing director of guidance and counseling at Frisco Independent School District in Frisco, TX.

Building Ranks™ Connections

Dimension: Student-Centeredness

Target supports for each student—academically, socially, emotionally, and physically.

You must ensure that extra supports are in place for each student who is struggling academically, emotionally, socially, or physically by targeting programs or designating particular adults to develop relationships with that student and make sure that his or her needs are met.

Student-Centeredness is part of the Building Culture domain of Building Ranks.