More than 1200 suicidal outcries from SA elementary students last year

The number of elementary school kids in crisis appears to be on the rise, according to records of self harm and suicidal outcries.

The critical time school counselors have to help in these situations is dwindling because so many are also leading the charge to administer state mandated tests.

The increased needs of students combined with the increased demands of testing have counselors stretched thin, worried about the students who desperately need their help.

"Well I have had many students who have come to me with an outcry of being physically or sexually abused," said elementary school counselor, Chris, who agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity. "We've had students who don't get food, they have to beg on the corner for change or at a corner store."

Chris has also heard about cutting, anxiety, depression, bullying, fallout from divorce, parents who are in jail and even a sex trafficking.

"In the back of my mind I had my other responsibilities as a testing coordinator on my mind, making sure the counts were right, making sure scan trons are filled out correctly, making sure room assignments and other logistical concerns that have to do with testing were taken care of, " Chris said. "I'll be totally honest, it was a very big distraction."

Last year the San Antonio Independent School District had 134 suicidal outcries at the elementary school level, North East Side Independent School District had 156, and the Northside Independent School District reported 952.

"It's shocking to know that we have that many elementary school students that are in some kind of crisis to make that outcry," said North East Independent School District Director of Guidance, Natalie Hierholzer.

At the high school and middle school level, most campuses have a designated campus testing coordinator or CTC, but at the elementary school level, it's more common to designate the school counselor as the CTC.

"I think to be put in charge of it, it's just it's unfair to the students," Chris said adding being a CTC is an all-encompassing job that takes time and attention away from the students.

News 4 asked the three largest districts how much time the elementary school counselors spent on testing.

NEISD counselors responded to a poll saying they spent 44 percent of their time in the spring semester on testing duties.

When News 4 asked Barry Perez at NISD how much time counselors spent on testing, his response was, "I don't have that information."

Perez said NISD takes a team approach, explaining counselors are the CTCs for STAAR written tests, but that the assistant principals are the CTCs for all STAAR online testing and TELPAS testing.

Veronica Bustos with SAISD said counselors only spend 1 to 1.5 hours per week on testing duties during the spring.

"I just want to be clear, our stance is that we are not to use our school counselors and deploy them as test administrators, we want them to be doing school counseling services," Bustos said.

Despite this statement, when pressed, Bustos admitted it might be happening in a couple of schools.

When News 4 asked for confirmation, Bustos was surprised to find out there were actually 12 SAISD elementary school counselors that were the STAAR CTC and 15 counselors that were the TELPAS CTC.

"It really makes me think about how we are deploying our school counselors at the elementary school level and really think about advocating for our school counselors to be able to do more 1 on 1 school counseling," Bustos said.

It seems all administrators and counselors News 4 interviewed agreed it would be a welcome change to have funding for a designated CTC at every public school campus.

"Northside certainly would not argue and I think you would be hard pressed to find a school district that would say we don't want that individual," Perez said. "The issue is, we deal with the resources we're provided."

SAISD has already begun shifting the CTC role away from counselors.

Chris is hoping other districts will follow their lead.

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