As a high-schooler, I never once saw a guidance counselor. I’d sometimes see my classmates called to the guidance office, and I always wondered what I had to do to get out of class too. Turns out, my good grades and quiet demeanor worked against me.
Truth is, most guidance counselors are buried behind master class schedules, behavioral problems, and other administrative duties. And when they’re not, their student lists are endless: In 2009-10, the most recent data available, the average school counselor was responsible for 459 students, according to the American School Counselor Association.
A survey of middle and high school counselors by the College Board shows that only 30 percent see their schools’ mission as “ensur[ing] that all students complete 12th grade ready to succeed in college and careers.” More than half reported that a “significant change” is needed at their school to help make more students college- and career-ready.
“Most students that I encountered don’t know how to fill out financial aid forms, never visited a college, and simply just don’t know the steps it takes for the road of a postsecondary education,” wrote Maralina Allen, who has worked as a substitute teacher, who weighed in on Teacher Sector this week.
So how do counselors like Randy A. McPherson, recognized as the 2011 School Counselor of the Year by the ASCA, get it done?
McPherson started with ninth-graders, putting students in programs or tracks that align with their interests, from finances to health sciences and more. He also built partnerships with community organizations and businesses that could provide feedback on the relevance and appropriateness of the skills they were teaching, as well as internship and apprenticeship possibilities for students.
“In some aspects, my role looks like a college recruiter or a career placement director,” he told the ASCA in March.
One of the reasons McPherson had time to spend with his students was his school, Trezevant Career and Technology Center, a vocational school. All of his students had “home schools,” where they attended school during the day, and came to Trezevant for three hours for technical work.
McPherson is now the director of counseling services at Memphis City Schools, where officials are implementing a real-time electronic data-tracking system that allows teachers and counselors to immediately log academic and behavior problems and respond accordingly, he wrote to me in an e-mail. They’re also focusing on fostering relationships with community-based partnerships that can provide outside support, as well as developing in-house mental health teams to handle issues beyond the scope of a counselor. With these, McPherson wrote, they have been able to increase the graduation rate by 10 percent in the last three years.
What’s going on in your school? How do you get around the nitty gritty that has become a counselor’s life and move toward the heart of what it is you want to do? Share your experiences here.