How has COVID-19 Changed School Counseling Internships?

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COVID-19 has turned the world of education upside down. School counseling internships have looked very different in 2020 and 2021. There is no better way to understand the impact of COVID-19 on internship than to go straight to the source. Two school counseling interns and two school counseling supervisors were kind enough to talk with me about their experiences managing internship in a pandemic world.

An Interview with Current School Counseling Interns, Jennifer and Ashleigh

Jennifer is a middle school intern from Wisconsin and Ashleigh is an elementary school intern from Virginia.

1) What services did you provide in your virtual internship?

Jennifer: During my internship, I was able to do whole group virtual lessons with different middle school classes. I led some small group sessions with 8th grade girls focusing on issues like self-esteem and healthy relationships. We had a virtual career day and I helped recruit several speakers to come talk to the middle school students. I was able to talk to the students about the transition from middle school to high school and introduce them to some high school students who came to speak virtually to them. Another neat thing we did was have representatives from local colleges come to talk to 8th grade students about the programs and scholarships that they offer and students were able to get virtual tours of the campuses.

Ashleigh: I was able to provide individual counseling services. My supervisor was wonderful and worked with me to ensure that I was able to learn as much as I could virtually.

2) What did you enjoy most about your virtual internship?

Jennifer: I enjoyed being able to learn more about school counseling by talking and collaborating with my supervisor. Even though it was a virtual experience, I think my supervisors did the best that they could with showing me some of the responsibilities and tasks that they carry out on a daily basis. I certainly learned about many virtual resources that I hadn’t heard of or used before! I’m excited about going back to an in-person setting, but am also looking forward to incorporating new and exciting technologies into lessons and group work in the future. I learned that many students are extremely resilient and are working hard to do the best that they can with this new virtual learning curve ball that we were all thrown this past year.

Ashleigh: My favorite part of my virtual internship is the same sentiment I hold halfway through my first year as a school counselor: being school-based support for students, staff, and families. Through the end of my internship and into my first year, I have learned so many ways to be accessible to all those who need the services I provide.

3) What did you miss most about not being able to serve students in person?

Jennifer: I miss nearly everything about serving students in person! Building relationships and trust virtually is quite difficult (especially when you’re a new person and a new face). Many activities that I would like to have done with the students involve hands-on work, games, and group work that was difficult to translate to a virtual environment.

Ashleigh: I miss being able to serve students in person for so many reasons. I miss seeing students in the hallways, in their classrooms, interacting with each other, and sharing their joys and their challenges. My favorite part of my elementary internship from January 2020 – March 2020 when it was in person, was seeing the students light up when my supervisor and I came into the cafeteria to pick them up for lunch bunches.

4) What were the biggest challenges of a virtual internship for you?

Jennifer: The biggest challenges were not being able to meet and interact with students in person. You definitely don’t have the same connection and relationship with students when you’re working virtually. Many of the students I worked with never turned on their camera, so it was sad not to always get to see or know who I was working with. Recruiting students to attend small group sessions was also difficult, because usually after they finished their class meetings for the day, they logged off and often forgot about our scheduled times together. Students aren’t guaranteed the same level of privacy that they would get in small or individual sessions when they’re working at home with siblings and other family members around, and this made it hard for some students to truly open up and be honest.

Ashleigh: As previously mentioned, my final internship was from January – May 2020. The biggest challenges I faced in my virtual internship were from both my school site as well as what my university required for our program. Being an unprecedented time, my school site and my university were both trying to determine what was feasible for everyone simultaneously. I, again, commend my supervisor as well as her co-counselor for allowing me continue to be a part of their school counseling team. I was able to continue to be hands on during my final months of my program.

5) Even though your internship was virtual, do you still feel prepared for your first school counseling position?

Jennifer: Prior to delving into the school counseling world, I was a kindergarten teacher for many years. I am very thankful for my time that I spent in the elementary school setting, because without that previous in-person school experience I’m not sure I would be as prepared as I would like to be for the role of school counselor. I feel like I have a better understanding of what I would like the role to look like, and the virtual experience was certainly better than nothing at all. School counselors and teachers are always evolving and learning, and this experience taught me more about being flexible which is something that we all need to be familiar with when working in a school environment.

Ashleigh: Having the last few months of my internship be virtual, and beginning my first year virtually, I felt very prepared to deliver my school counseling program. I am confident that when my school returns to school, I will remain flexible and assist in any capacity. I love being a school counselor and I appreciate all of the support I have had in my first year from my administration and co-counselor!

An Interview with Current School Counseling Supervisors, Katie and Robin

Katie is an elementary school supervisor from Wisconsin and Robin is an elementary school supervisor from Georgia.

1) What services did your virtual intern provide?

Katie: She was able to see students individually. She was also able to record stories and help with assignments for students.

Robin: My intern will begin working with me in March of 2021. I will try and keep our services as close to what we do when in-person, but they will look a little different. She will be required to facilitate a small group, teach classroom lessons, do parent/teacher consultations, etc. so we will work to make sure she can fulfill those requirements. I also have a program where I collaborate with the 8th grade counselor at our feeder middle school to have some of their girls teach relational aggression skills to all our 5th grade girls (they would come to our school and do this four times in the spring). This will be one of the projects that she will be working on virtually. She will also focus on test-taking skills if we have our state assessment and the transition to middle school lessons, too.

2) What did you enjoy most about having a virtual intern?

Katie: I enjoyed our supervision sessions with one another. I had more time virtually to dedicate to her questions. If we had been on site, we would not have had as much time to meet.

Robin: N/A

3) How was supervising a virtual intern different from supervising an in-person intern?

Katie: The biggest difference between an in person and a virtual intern is their ability to reach all students when needed. Interns don’t necessarily have our student information management systems, so for them to see all of the assignments, parent contact info, email, etc. it made it more tricky. When we are in person, I’m right there to do it with them side by side.

Robin: If we remain digital and they move all the teachers home as well, it will be a bit more challenging. She would not be able to work as independently as she would in the building. My biggest concern, however, is the relationship piece. You just cannot get that over Zoom, especially if you have never worked with or seen the student before.

4) What did you worry that your virtual intern missed out on by not being able to serve students in person?

Katie: I did worry that she didn’t have as good of an experience, but she was in-person with me in February and part of March so she did get a taste of elementary school counseling in person.

Robin: Even now with us being half and half, things are different. We don’t have as many of the situations come up that take your time all day. What I would tell my interns is you can make a to-do list, but there are many days that you won’t get to one of those things. Being a school counselor means you must be flexible at all times and determine what issue trumps another one. This is what our intern will miss out on — the true day in the life of a school counselor. So far we have hardly had any conflict resolution situations come up. And they were mainly in the building. Virtually, we have had some texting issues. My intern will also miss out on canceled events and programs such as the Peer Leadership Conference, New Student Ambassadors, Girl PRIDE, etc.

5) What were the biggest challenges of having a virtual intern?

Katie: The biggest challenge was the access to our student information systems: Seesaw, Schoology, and Infinite Campus.

Robin: Making sure her requirements are met for her university program.

6) Do you feel that the virtual internship prepared your intern for their first school counseling position?

Katie: I feel that my intern is ready for her first position. She told me numerous times how grateful she was and that despite Covid hitting mid internship, she learned so much during her time with me.

Robin: For our spring intern, it will be a little tough. I do have concerns about her being prepared. She will be with us from August-October though so who knows what things will look like then. When interns don’t get the day to day experience from being in-person with students, it will be hard for them to jump right into that when they have their own school. Can they learn it? Yes, but they will need consult, consult, and consult!

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