There are 500 students at School 11 in Clifton, New Jersey, and school counselor Laura Tunnell prides herself on striving to know each kid’s name. That’s not easy when children are “in and out and they are wearing masks,” says Tunnell, but she works hard at it. She does this not only because she loves her job but because she wants all the students to have what they need, including “comfort, food, to feel loved and safe,” says the alumna, who received two degrees from Caldwell—a bachelor’s in psychology and a master’s in counseling with specialization in school counseling.
At her K-5 school, Tunnell handles individual and small-group counseling, puts together 504 plans—which help students with physical or mental difficulties learn—oversees intervention and referral services, reports on bullying scenarios and teaches classroom lessons on character development. She is visible. “I’m in the lunchroom and on the playground. Kids see me all the time.” She wants her students to know that when they walk through the doors of the school they can feel at home. “It is nice to see them succeed in our building,” says Tunnell. It’s important, especially since “sometimes they don’t go home to the best homes.”
Tunnell recently learned that she had received the Governor’s Educational Service Professional of the Year Award for School 11. She was overjoyed to hear the announcement over the speaker and to be able to share the news with the school community. The top floor of the school was screaming, and kindergartners were “running down the hallway to hug me, yelling, ‘Congratulations, Ms. T,’” Tunnell says.
She attributes a good part of her success to the foundation she received at Caldwell University where she appreciated the small classroom settings, her classmates and the professors, “who I’m still in contact with.”
“They gave you real-life scenarios,” whether it was her classes on the psychology of addiction, counseling theory or other courses, Tunnell says. “I have all my books here in my office. I refer back to them.” She stays in contact with several classmates who are practitioners in the field; they have become colleagues, helping each other out and bouncing ideas off one another.
School counseling is a gratifying career. Tunnell advises students who are interested in the field to “go for it.”
“Graduate school may seem challenging, but seeing the students’ faces every day and seeing the impact you have on their lives is so rewarding. Every day I wake up excited to go to work.”
The M.A. in Counseling with School Counseling Specialization prepares qualified students to pursue the profession of counselor in school settings. Upon graduation, students have met the New Jersey Department of Education requirements for the credential certified school counselor.
The program is designed to prepare students to work within the guidelines of the American School Counselor Association’s “National Model: A Framework for School Counseling Programs.” Graduates will also take an additional 12 credits to satisfy the education requirements for the credential of New Jersey licensed professional counselor. They will also be eligible to take the additional 12 credits to meet the educational requirements for the New Jersey Department of Education certification for director of school counseling services.