National School Counseling Week Spotlight: Kristal Cooks

IDEA is proud to celebrate National School Counseling Week 2022 February 7-11, to focus public attention on the unique contribution of school counselors within our schools. National School Counseling Week, sponsored by American School Counselor Association (ASCA), highlights the tremendous impact school counselors have in helping students achieve success in school and in life.

We recently caught up with Kristal Cooks, a school counselor at IDEA Rise Academy in Tarrant County (Fort Worth, TX) to get insight into her journey into education, her role, and why schools counselors are an integral part of student success.

Tell us a bit about your background and education.

I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, and earned my associate’s degree at Tarrant County Community College, a bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Tarleton State University, and a master’s degree in social work from The University of Texas at Arlington. I am currently finishing my clinical supervision to upgrade my license to a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

What sparked your interest in counseling?

I’m a part-time clinical therapist at Mesa Springs Inpatient Hospital and I realized that access to mental health services was difficult to get for many people. So, I asked myself ‘what can I do?’ ‘How can I make an impact?’ This is my first year working in an educational setting. As a first-generation graduate myself, I found I enjoyed working with kids and identified with IDEA’s mission of college for all students. Growing up, I never had that example in school. I didn’t have a mentor or someone that really took the time to show me how to get to college. I did that on my own.

How has the pandemic impacted your scope of work?

It has completely impacted it and how we approach intervention styles. I work with Academy students in the younger grades, and the pandemic affected how they learn and changed the needs of families. Stress levels can run high, and I make sure I can provide what they need in terms of resources—whether students need help in school or parents need assistance making ends meet.

What is a typical day like for a school counselor?

My days are different every day. I carry a caseload. I am on the phone with families discussing options for their child and coming up with game plans for students who are struggling in their learning environment. I do behavioral intervention and provide support to at-risk students. These are students who have behavioral issues or issues at home. We have sessions to learn new coping skills and work on communication skills and identify and talk about our feelings. It starts at a very early age and that is one of the most important things that I do.

What role do counselors play in student success?

I feel like we provide a safe space for our students, which is important. We are the ones that they can come and speak to about anything. We monitor our students’ success. If you see a student struggling, we need to sit down and have a conversation and provide additional support outside of just the classroom. The road to success starts at such an early age. I like to make sure that I’m present all day. You will see me in the hallway or sitting in a classroom observing behaviors and interactions. I feel like making sure that they’re successful is providing that safe space for them to learn and grow.

Why do you think it’s important to highlight the work of school counselors?

Because we don’t just support our scholars, we support everyone—students, parents, guardians, and staff members. We have a pivotal role and I feel like it is important work. We counselors sometimes become sponges. We take on a lot of heavy emotions and we got into this field because we want to help others. It is important to let counselors know that we see them, and we appreciate them.

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