Sarah Doenges | School counselor M Ed ’23, University of Missouri

In May, Sarah Doenges earned her master of education in school counseling for elementary and secondary certification from the University of Missouri’s (Mizzou) 100% online program. As a school counselor for Columbia Public Schools, she uses her skills to connect to students in the community and set them up for success in and out of the classroom.

“I really was hoping to learn more in-depth techniques on how to support children, increase their social-emotional skills, academic skills and prepare them for the world of work,” Doenges said.

Doenges counsels five to 11-year-olds. To set each student up for success, she helps them learn about academic skills and provides career exploration in addition to counseling services. While she has experience with elementary and secondary education, she says elementary is her favorite.

“There’s still so much growth there, and if we can build those skills, then they’ll have a more successful school experience with friends, teachers and learning experiences that can relate to work and things like how to be a good citizen.”

When Doenges decided to pursue school counseling, she was pregnant with her second child and applied to a few different graduate schools. But, she said, in-person classes were an obstacle. 

“One of the struggles that I had was getting child care and paying for school without an income. The online program kind of solved that problem for me, and I could do my homework at home.”

She started the program in 2020, entering the first 100% online cohort. She credits the flexibility of Mizzou’s online classes with her choice of a graduate program because it allowed her to continue caring for her family while she advanced her education. 

“I could stay home with my boys and do virtual school with my oldest son and still continue doing my own education at home.”

She was also already a Mizzou alumna with her bachelor’s degree, and she felt the school counseling program was an affordable option. 

“I know the quality of the staff. I know I'll be getting a quality education. I didn’t have concerns about it and it’s reasonably priced so that was a big push for why I chose it.”

Helping students beyond the classroom

As a school counselor, Doenges spends a lot of her time in the classroom teaching things like communication skills or helping students explore their interests. Then, she helps students build on their strengths, whether it’s numbers and fractions or emotional intelligence.

“By the time they’re in fifth grade, they would’ve already taken interest inventories, and intelligence inventories with what they naturally navigate toward and what we can build up,” she said.

In her school system, Doenges said they teach soft skills and healthy coping strategies to build resiliency and self-esteem in group or individual settings.

“Learning how to get along with one another and cooperate, follow directions and stay on task and manage big feelings when things don't go your way.”

She said she enjoys it when students recall what she taught them previously. One activity involved ‘rumor toothpaste’ to show students how once a rumor is shared, it can’t be unsaid like how toothpaste can’t be put back in a tube once it’s dispensed.

Doenges is passionate about preparing children for life beyond the classroom and says elementary education is where her heart is.

“Some kids are going through hard times and have had traumatic experiences, and I work with them individually and offer solution-focused sessions where we don’t really stay too much in the past; we focus on here and now to help them feel more comfortable and be more productive.”

Doenges said she especially liked learning about early intervention in the school counselor program and wanted to focus on learning about classroom management, crisis response and older child development. 

“I was unsure how an online program could teach me those things because I wouldn't be in class, but we actually had the same experiences as in person had, but it was more flexible.”

She said everything she learned in her program helped better prepare her for school counseling.

“I wouldn't have learned any of this without Mizzou. All my instructors did a great job reinforcing these skills that counselors need.”

She entered the master’s program during the COVID-19 pandemic. Doenges said since the pandemic, there has been more of an emphasis on mental health, wellness and building social skills in early education. She said some kids are lacking in social skills from being out of school in critical early childhood development years which affects how the brain is wired.

“Children are resilient and part of it is building that resiliency. We can’t guarantee life is going to be rainbows and unicorns.”

Confident curiosity to find your calling

Doenges was provisionally counseling before she got certified and earned her master’s. She did her 12-credit practicum in person at a high school to gain experience with different age groups while working full time.

“I was nervous about going back to school after nine years. I was worried I wouldn't be able to keep up with new trends and different platforms like Canvas, but I was surprised how resilient I was and how quickly that learning took place. I was surprised at how well I managed my time, so that was something that helped me build confidence in my skills as a school counselor.”

She said she’s confident she found her niche in education with school counseling. Although she said the job can be tough at times, she knows she’s found her calling.

“I absolutely love what I do. I can’t imagine doing anything else. This is where my heart is. I took a long time to get what I wanted to do and I feel like I got it right.”

As for advice she has for others considering the program, she said to prioritize learning time, get to know your classmates and stay curious.

“Put forth the effort and go every time. I learned so much about myself and felt way more comfortable practicing with real-life students when I was able to practice with my cohort. I would say do it and ask questions. If you feel lost, ask. Other people probably have the same exact questions. I really feel like I found my niche. I love it.”

About the M Ed school counselor program

The school counselor elementary and secondary certification program is offered 100% online with the University of Missouri. It’s nationally ranked in two categories as a “Best Online Program.” The 60-credit master of education program is accredited by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and is intended to prepare you for K–12 school counselor certification.

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Keri Gottberg

Student Support Specialist

Department of Educational, School and Counseling Psychology