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Arkansas State University

Become a School Counselor With a Master’s Degree Focused on Special Populations

The scope of responsibilities for school counselors is, in many ways, virtually limitless. In terms of a job description, counselors “encourage and support all students’ academic, career and social/emotional development,” as the American School Counselors Association outlines. In practice, however, that means fulfilling various roles and constantly adapting to meet the myriad needs of students.

The requirement to support every student means that school counselors must possess a range of skills in order to properly address those needs. This includes exceptional students such as gifted and talented, English language learning and special education students. These subgroups require a special set of support and, and counselors must have specific skills that are historically not a part of traditional training programs for school counselors. However, research suggests that “students with disabilities have not always received adequate educational services and supports.”

The online Master of Science in Education (MSE) in School Counseling – Special Populations program from Arkansas State University (A-State) offers graduates the relevant skill set necessary to effectively provide support to students with diverse needs and abilities. The program emphasizes the social, emotional and cultural aspects of a school environment and helps educators gain the skills to create more meaningful connections with students that promote constructive development. Students in A-State’s program will explore the theories and purpose behind this approach in order to develop a dynamic, holistic process that works for all student subgroups.

What Are the Components of Special Education Counseling?

There are varying approaches to special education counseling. According to the Texas Model for Comprehensive School Counseling programs, “To appropriately update school counseling programs, services must be integrated into programs and the programs must have a developmental basis that help all students develop and practice specific competencies. School counseling programs also must be systematically planned and delivered, and include a component that is responsive to students’ special needs.” To do this, the model recommends that districts hire administrators who can build and support specific programs, such as those for counseling special education students.

As the education discussion forum Frontiers notes, advanced education programs in school counseling must be “more intentional” with exposing aspiring counselors to more comprehensive practices and pedagogical approaches when working with exceptional students. Too often, training programs include limited content and practice opportunities for working with students in special populations and focus only on general techniques and procedures. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of forging unique, meaningful connections with exceptional students who also need them.

The practices for working with students in special populations help cultivate approaches that are highly transferable to the general student population. The inverse is not as transferable, given the many unique needs of special populations.

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) highlights a number of imperatives with regard to appropriate training and preparation for school counselors. A-State’s MSE online program focuses on fulfilling those areas. For example, it focuses on communication and collaboration with all members of a student’s school community — families, teachers and other stakeholders — as this is critical to create a cohesive support system in and outside the classroom for students in special populations. This also helps to “create learning environments promoting student educational equity.” The MSE program provides graduates with the experience and knowledge necessary to foster meaningful relationships with other stakeholders in students’ lives, including the importance of cultural responsiveness and psycho-social elements of development.

Another essential tenant in special education counseling is the use of data and research to construct individualized education and treatment plans for students. A-State’s MSE program takes a panoramic view of the factors that can affect a student’s educational experience and delves into the nuance of what it means to provide effective support among such diverse special populations. This includes looking at organizational structure, ethical considerations, cultural differences, developmental theory, multi-tiered intervention systems and more.

How an Advanced Degree Can Help

Many aspiring school counselors already spend their days working in education in some capacity, so the ability to balance professional needs with further education and career development is an important facet of any graduate program.

A-State’s program is approved by the Arkansas Department of Education and prepares students to work as school counselors in public and private K-12 schools. One relevant course that provides graduates with skills to work with special education learners is the Counseling Students with Disabilities in the School Setting course. Students must confirm the licensure requirements in the state they plan to work.

Students in A-State’s online program control their own schedule and pace, allowing them the flexibility necessary to stay at work. The duality of this format also allows students to practice lessons in a real-life setting simultaneously, which helps deepen conceptual understanding and experiential learning.

Learn more about Arkansas State University’s online Master of Science in Education in High School Counseling – Special Populations Concentration program.

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