A Coffee with Jeniffer Willie



“Jeniffer works as a Senior Guidance Counsellor ...”

Jeniffer works as a Senior Guidance Counsellor at a High School in St. Catherine, Jamaica and works with students from Grades 7 to 13. She is a former President of the Jamaica Association of Guidance Counsellors.

Hi Jeniffer, how do you take your coffee?

I’m sorry to say that I am not a real coffee lover, but I do take a light cup once in a while, and will take it black or with cream. I think I prefer with cream though.

You work as an educational counsellor in Jamaica and I understand your students are from grades 7 to 13.  This must mean a wide range of issues that you have to deal with.  What would you say are the most challenging?

Working with young people in the school system is challenging in many ways, in spite of the moments of satisfaction sometimes yielded.

Most challenging for me is with regards to the limitations encountered in accessing needed resources – (financial and personnel) to provide immediate response to students needing it.  Learning how to successfully navigate the process of bridging the gap between the adults (staff and parents) and the students is another. Two sets of diverse cultures, poles apart, and in many instances neither group is tolerant to negotiate effectively.  Also, working with young people requires one having to identify new and novel ways of helping many adolescents to appreciate life skills lessons being taught as worthwhile and beneficial in the present, and not perhaps just for older people, as many of them seem to believe.  Coupled with this especially for older counsellors like me, is learning how to effectively integrate the use of technology in the general delivery of lessons and programmes that young people can appreciate and fully engage in, especially in light of their range of concerns.

Their developmental issues have overtaken academic and career goals and are creating insurmountable challenges on several fronts.  We need to meet them where they are at, but that sometimes can be difficult.

You mentioned to me that the system in Jamaica is quite different.  What are the main differences?

Some of the differences are seen in the delivery of the services and in the roles and responsibilities plus the expectations of school counsellors. Our roles are multifaceted we function to “fix it”, or so it is believed, whether we do it ourselves or we get the necessary help to do so. Unfortunately, the system has not really given counsellors the opportunity to implement effective intervention programmes. Too many deficits, too many demands: we are under staffed; so that many schools are operating with an unrealistic counsellor pupil ratio of 1: 600 to 750 and sometimes as high as 1: 900 to 1000.  Noting, that in some cases improvements are evident, but certainly not enough given the numerous problems in the school system. We get bombarded with administrative demands, with limited or no secretarial/ office support to carry out the tasks, daily classroom guidance sessions demanding lesson planning activities. Work with students is difficult, serious work with parents is even more so. Not enough time remains for individual planning, educational, career and psychological interventions. Referrals are helpful, but not many families have the resources for pursuing this. The plans often look good on paper, but are not really practical, sad to say. We need more professional services at the level of the school, such as social workers, financial aid officers, psychologists, special educators, and Career Development officers among others to effectively serve the school population.