What does your union mean to you? NEA Danbury social chair and Westside Middle School Academy counselor Curtis Darragh IV, Connecticut’s 2021 School Counselor of the Year, shares his Because of Our Union story below.
It’s been a huge battle to get appropriate supports for students’ mental health, but our union has been fighting every step of the way. Last year, funding for mental health resources was a major legislative achievement in our state, and this year, CEA succeeded at getting that funding extended in order to expand counseling and social emotional services. I can’t overstate how badly this is needed. In my district, we have no elementary school counselors, and my own caseload is 375 students. We need better counselor-to-student ratios. We can do a lot better.
As the 2021 School Counselor of the Year, I’ve heard a lot of what teachers and students were going through. Having worked through the pandemic, I’ve seen it firsthand. There has been a rise of depression and anxiety among students, and in younger children, a lot of this manifests itself in aggressive behavior—often directed at teachers. This is happening in elementary schools and not only to special education teachers in self-contained classrooms but also to general education teachers. Our school psychologists and social workers are feeling the brunt of this as well.
Being involved in my union has been key to making important social and professional connections and agitating for change in education policy and funding. I’ve been a school counselor for eight years, and to every single new teacher, I say this: Your union has your back! When you need help or representation, fighting this fight yourself you can easily lose. I work in a large district, and being active in your union helps you know what’s going on. I’m very thankful for our union, because it means we can fight for what’s best for our kids.