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Student Counsel

I was bullied in ninth grade. An older kid used to wait for me outside the cafeteria, and as I left he would taunt me in front of his friends—even push me around. It went on for most of the year. Although I was scared, I never told a soul. I felt awful that I couldn’t stop it on my own. I had never been bullied before and have rarely been bullied since. Those memories are so vivid to me, as if the bullying happened yesterday. Sadly, when I sit back and reflect on that entire year of my life, I can remember little else.

A new battle cry of American education seems to be college and career readiness. School professionals are being urged to graduate students who can be successful in college and ready for a career. In a speech before Congress in 2009, President Obama raised the bar when he declared that “every American will need to get more than a high school diploma.”

September is an incredible time to be a school counselor. The month seems to fly by as we work at a frenetic pace to review and adjust students' academic programs, assist students who are transitioning into a new school, and support students and families as they acclimate to a new school year. For high school counselors, we have the added responsibilities related to college admissions planning for incoming seniors.

At a recent conference that I attended, I learned quite a bit about the development and implementation of online courses in public schools. However, I left the workshop feeling a bit discouraged, even disgusted. Not with regard to online learning; in fact, I am cautiously optimistic that online coursework will benefit students in many different ways. But the more I heard, the more I felt disillusioned.

Throughout my career as a counselor, many parents and students have shared positive counseling experiences with me. They have often used words like "helpful," "caring," "committed" and "encouraging." But to date, I have never heard the word "creative" used to describe me or any other school counselor. As the job of the counselor has become more complex and the number of opportunities available to students has continued to expand, however, counselors have often been required to demonstrate a great deal of creativity in their work with students and their families.

I received a promotional e-mail from a New York City writer recently. In the solicitation, he boasts of having written screenplays for major television networks and film studios as well as articles for well-known publications. You might ask, "What would a screenwriter and journalist be selling to a high school guidance director?" It turns out that he provides a service to college-bound seniors. For around $500, he will provide guidance to a student on how to "craft" the best college essay.

Last spring, Public Agenda, a nonprofit research organization, released a report on behalf of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The report, entitled "Can I Get a Little Advice Here?" presented the results of a survey administered to 600 adults from 22 to 30 who had at least begun some form of higher education. The survey asked the respondents to reflect on the quality of their interactions with their high school counselors.

Our country's Advanced placement programs are booming and have been for some time. In May 2000, approximately 769,000 students took 1.3 million AP exams in this country. By May 2009, approximately 1.7 million students took nearly 3 million exams—a growth rate of 130 percent in nine years. The 1990s saw an even greater rate: 145 percent. What's behind this impressive growth?

For high school students, college admissions counseling and postsecondary school planning have become increasingly intricate. In response, many school districts have invested in counseling programs developed to educate students and families regarding issues such as conducting the college search, testing, career guidance, application procedures, essay preparation and interviews. For many students, the postsecondary planning process is a significant part of their junior and senior years in high school.