As the debate continues over teaching America's history with racism, school counselors see the need to address the topic with students, many of whom may be experiencing it first hand.
"School counselors understand the difference between what is and isn't equitable for students," said Angie Hickman, a research director at the American School Counselor Association. "The job of school counselors is to serve all students, to help all students be successful."
A recent survey of school counselors on how they're addressing racism and bias was a big topic at this year's School Counselor of the Year awards. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and Education Sec. Miguel Cardona joined in on the discussion.
The survey revealed that school counselors play a crucial role in developing and leading intervention and development programs to combat racism. The programs are done primarily in individual counseling but also in classroom lessons.
"We'd like to see more addressing disproportionalities with their other school counselors in the school and with administrators because that's where you make the systemic change," Hickman said.
School counselors help identify policies that disproportionally affect students of color. That can include hiring policies, discipline practices and special education referrals. It can also include policies about hairstyles, dress codes, grading and homework.
The group has found that when there is change and programs are in place, it leads to positive outcomes.
"School climate improves because kids feel seen they feel represented they feel a sense of belonging to their school," Hickman said.
Counselors say there's a need for more diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) teams, curriculum and resources in schools. They also say schools need systems to report hate and bias incidents to overcome fears about pushback from parents or the community.
"Our kids know what's going on, and they need the adults in the room to contextualize it for them, to help them understand, to make them understand and be more comfortable with their place in the world, and what it means for them going forward," Hickman said.