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Arizona's students are feeling grief and loss. Counselors say schools must do more

bill lucas
Agua Fria High School
Bill Lucas

Kids in America are in a mental health crisis.

The pandemic only added to already growing rates of depression, anxiety, trauma and loneliness in children and adolescents. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health and called for regulatory action to address the problem.

It’s a problem that school counselors are seeing firsthand.

Bill Lucas is a counselor at Agua Fria High School in Avondale. He’s in his 30th year in public schools, and he’s chair of the Arizona School Counselors Association. And he told The Show the increased need for mental health services is coming at a difficult time — because there also are not enough counselors to go around.

The current rate of students-to-counselors in Arizona is 716:1. And that represents a big improvement. Last month, the Arizona Department of Education announced they had successfully lowered that rate from 905 students per one counselor.

But as Lucas said, it’s not enough — and the Department of Education agrees. Now, Lucas said very few schools in the country are able to get to that 250:1 ratio, but without it, right now it means counselors are being pulled in too many directions at once.

And contrary to what might be popular belief, Lucas said high school is not where the challenges can be the most difficult, but elementary school, where counselors are expected to more directly address mental health needs, as opposed to offering college advice.

Britney Griffith is a K-8 school counselor for Booth-Fickett Math/Science magnet school in Tucson. 

The Show also spoke with her about what she’s seeing there, and her fears about what could happen to kids who don’t get the help they need.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.