AUSTIN (KXAN) — Students across the country will be heading back to school soon, many with concerns after May’s Uvalde school shooting.

Families affected by the Robb Elementary shooting are still reacting to leaked surveillance video from the school when the shooting occurred on May 24.

In times like these, school counselors can help school communities, from students to staff to families.

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) is wrapping up its annual conference in Austin this week. Executive Director Jill Cook sat down with KXAN to discuss the important role school counselors and mental health professionals play when tragedies like school shootings happen.

Q: After the leak of this school video, what role do school counselors play after such a traumatic event?

Cook: “School counselors, along with school psychologists, school social workers, are in school settings to help support students and school staff and families, and really help make those connections between the needs that students and families may have after something like this and to help provide long-term care and support with community agencies.”

Q: We are a little more than a month away from the start of the new school year. Many school districts are facing counselor shortages, as the mental health crisis is at its peak in our schools. What is the reason behind this shortage?

Cook: “So it’s a lot of different reasons. One is we have been fortunate in that there has been an infusion of both local, state and federal dollars into school counseling and school-based mental health positions, given the outcome of COVID and what we as a collective community have been dealing with.

But at the same time, while there’d been an increase in dollars for additional positions, we have seen, like in all of education, there are not as many individuals going into the profession, going into those graduate programs to become school counselors. So we’re at this crisis point of we do have positions to have school counselors in schools, but we don’t have enough individuals with the proper certification to fill those roles.”

Q: What do districts and state lawmakers need to do to ensure our students have enough counselors in schools and the mental health resources they need?

Cook: “Absolutely, to prioritize school counselors, school social workers, school psychologists as positions that must be in schools. They’re not ancillary, they’re not a nicety to have, they’re integral to the work that schools do.

ASCA, our association, recommends a school counselor-to-student ratio of one school counselor to every 250 students. We know that the K-12 average nationally is one to 415. Texas is a little lower at 392, but certainly still well above what ASCA recommends. So we need additional funds, and we need to promote school counseling and education as a whole as careers that are valued, and we want individuals to go into.”