Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What Was Done for School Counselors on Their Summer Vacation

By: Patrick O'Connor Ph.D

Schools are opening after a summer of activity rich with support and opportunity for school counselors.  There are almost too many highlights to talk about, but these four come to mind:

First Lady Michelle Obama electrified the profession when she appeared as a keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the American School Counselor Association in June.  Mrs. Obama recognized school counselors for their hard work, and acknowledged that their work was made even more challenging due to large caseloads and insufficient training in career and college counseling.  Mrs. Obama promised to do more for school counselors…

…and she made good on her promise when the White House held a July summit on school counselors and college advising at Harvard.  120 college advising advocates met to discuss current progress and challenges in this vital field; participants were also asked to make a promise to advance college advising in some way over the next six months.

The summit came about a month after US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to the 50 state chief education officers.  In that letter, Secretary Duncan asked school leaders to make sure counselors received adequate training in college and career counseling. He also asked them to make sure school counselors received the training and opportunities necessary to be seen as the leaders of creating a college readiness atmosphere in their buildings—with both goals accomplished by the end of this summer.

Common Application was supposed to open August 1st for high school seniors to begin the college application process.  Fraught with logistical challenges last year, Common App put the concerns of many counselors to rest, as the application tool opened twelve hours early, on July 31st.  Since then, students and counselors have been completing online materials without a hitch, much to the delight of all members of the Class of 2015 and those supporting their work in the college application process. (Disclosure: I am a member of the board of directors for Common Application.)
School counselors find themselves in the unusual position of starting the school year with positive momentum built by others, so it’s natural to ask—what should we do next to build on this summer of school counselor support?  Three things come to mind:

Continue to implement the excellent programs and support school counselors are known for.  The White House is extending unprecedented support to school counselors because the work we do for students makes a difference.  Plans for future services are always important, but only if they are built on the continued success of our programs—as a result, we need to keep up the good work.

Find out what steps your state has taken to implement the requests of Secretary Duncan’s “Dear Colleague” letter.  Early indications suggest state school leaders have been slow to consider or develop initiatives that will give school counselors the better training they deserve in college advising and in building leadership in college readiness.  Now is not the time to let this opportunity die due to lack of counselor input; contact your state education office, and ask about their plans.

Get involved.  The White House is holding another college advising summit in December, where invitations are extended based on commitments to strengthen the relationships between K-12 and higher education.  There’s really no such thing as free time to a school counselor, but if your state is behind in its Dear Colleague commitment, now is the time to step up to the plate.  Not only will it help counselors and students; it may land you in the Roosevelt Room with the First Lady.

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