VALDOSTA -- National School Counseling Week 2004 kicks off today and continues through Friday.

Officials with the Lowndes County and Valdosta City school systems view this week as a fitting time to give all guidance counselors a well-deserved thank-you and pat on the back for the things they do each day to promote each student's success.

Guidance counselors wear many hats and perform a variety of tasks. However, they focus much of their time and attention on three areas -- helping students find solutions to academic struggles, assisting students in making good decisions about career possibilities, and working with students to overcome personal or social problems that may interfere with their studies.

Guidance counselors have specialized training that allows them to identify problems and to find possible solutions when a child is not performing to his or her potential. Counselors are able to conduct interviews and diagnostic tests that pinpoint learning problems in order to get a struggling student into assistance programs that can help. Most counselors have also worked as classroom teachers, giving them an enhanced perspective on problems and possible solutions.

When students have personal or social problems, the guidance counselor is there. It is not unusual at all for a child to be able to open up more readily to a guidance counselor than to his or her classroom teacher, an administrator, or even, in some cases, his or her own parents. Very often the counselor serves as the nexus of communication, helping the child in concert with all others who have a stake in the child's academic and social success.

The role of the guidance counselor has expanded enormously. An example is how counselors now go into the classrooms as specialized teachers to talk with entire classes about such subjects as violence prevention, substance abuse prevention and cessation, manners and etiquette and personal safety. In addition, counselors talk to elementary school students about career options and inspire them to begin thinking early on about what it will take to get into a rewarding career.

Today's counselors are also heavily involved in the testing process. They help educate children in how to perform their best on standardized tests and how to avoid unnecessary anxiety.

Counselors also assist students, teachers and parents in understanding what test results mean so that that information can be used to overcome weak areas, allowing the students to strive for greater success.

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