Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The High School Where Every Counselor is College Ready

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

It' s time to make good on a debt.
Last fall, I challenged America's school counselors to improve college advising in their building by requiring every new counselor to take a course in college counseling. These courses are a must if any school is to make headway in giving better college advice to students and parents.
I'm thrilled to say a school has answered the call. In her first year as a counselor at Detroit Catholic Central, Shawn Mather took a college counseling class (with me). Now that she's department chair, she has a policy--you only get hired if you agree to take a class. As a result, her students are getting better college advising--and as I promised, her juniors each have a new copy of College is Yours 2.0
Catholic Central becomes the first school in the country where every counselor has to be trained in college counseling--but they don't have to be the last one. There are plenty of classes out there, including online options; now that Shawn and Catholic Central have broken the barrier, it's time everyone walked through.
In case you need help talking to your school board, here's Shawn's story, in her own words.
In 2008, when I started my new position as a counselor at a college prep high school, I had no training or exposure to counseling students in the college selection process. I quickly realized that I had received no instruction during my Master's program on this specific subject, even though I was enrolled in the School Counseling track. Soon after I began my new role, I received an email about a "free" Workshop titled "Counseling in the College Selection Process."
As I sat in this workshop, along with many of my fellow Grad students, I was taking notes faster than I could talk! There was so much I did not know and needed to learn. I had never written a letter of recommendation. I had never heard of a Junior Questionnaire. NACAC, MACAC, Promoting the Publics, Goal Sunday?? Deciphering between the different Admissions Deadlines?? At the end of the workshop, it was announced that there was to be an upcoming week-long course on "Counseling in the College Selection Process." "Where do I sign up?" was my next question.
My fellow veteran counselors at my high school would agree that procedures related to the college selection process at our school were a bit antiquated and they were open to any new ideas I could offer. After taking the course, I had a lot of ideas to put into motion! I created an assortment of handouts related to Parent Nights, NCAA, College Essay Writing Tips, and much more. I created a document for teachers on "How To Write a Teacher Letter of Recommendation - since content should differ from that of a counselor. I updated our Guidance website, including links to many useful topics. I initiated/created a "Junior Questionnaire", followed by adding "Junior Interviews" to our spring responsibilities.
My Department was in full throttle and the feedback from parents, students and Administration has been all positive. With the valuable information and confidence I received from this course alone, my Guidance Department quickly moved into the 21st century with electronic transmittal of transcripts and letters of recommendation via Naviance and takes great pride in the work we do with our students to help them succeed in this "process" of selecting and applying to colleges. Two years into my role, I was promoted to Director of Guidance.
Since taking the "Counseling in the College Selection Process" course I have made it a requirement for any new hires in my Department. Honestly, this is how much I value this course and how prepared I want my fellow counselors to be in their role as a high school counselor.

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