Last week was National School Counseling Week. Note there’s a word missing: guidance. We are not guidance counselors; New York City needs to join the rest of the state and country in using accurate terminology. We are school counselors and, when employed appropriately, we can make a huge difference in students’ lives and in the wider school community.
For too long, school counselors have been assigned, or have assumed, inappropriate tasks: hall and bus duty, student discipline, constant crisis management, and too much paperwork. Every city school needs to ensure school counselors are focused on academic, career, college and social skills for every student. We can’t afford school counselor time wasted on other tasks when we should be counseling, planning, advising, and educating every child and adolescent on how to reach their career and college dreams successfully.
Unfortunately, the New York City school district is behind in the transformation of its school counseling programs when compared to, for example, Chicago. When done right, school counselors are able to work with every student on annual planning, conduct classroom couseling lessons for all students, as well as facilitate group counseling and individual counseling for some.
Research reported in the December, 2012, issue of the journal Professional School Counseling showed that students in six states attending schools with fully implemented school counseling programs are more likely to graduate high school and enter and graduate from college than students who do not have access to school counseling programs.
New York State faces hurdles. To start, the counselor-to-student caseload ratio averages 1:571. There is no mandate for school counselors in elementary schools. These are just two reasons why four CUNY educators, myself included, this week backed the idea of hiring thousands more school counselors in city schools, a proposal first raised last October in a report by City Comptroller John Liu.
There are many organizations with outstanding resources to help improve school counseling programs. They include the American School Counselor Association‘s evidence-based school counseling program model, the National Center for Transforming School Counseling‘s focus on closing achievement and opportunity gaps, and the “own the turf campaign of the College Board’s National Office for School Counselor Advocacy.
There are changes underfoot in our local schools. In the last few years, 90 elementary school counselors, building leaders and lead teachers learned the NCTSC model thanks to a demonstration grant. Other schools are implementing the ASCA model but the efforts are not citywide. We need to scale up, so that every student has adequate face time with a school counselor and access to a rich school counseling program.