Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Make a Difference? You bet!

by Patrick O'Connor, Ph.D.

I’ve written a couple of articles this year urging counselors to find ways to improve their work, without waiting for permission to do so. I love you all dearly, but we sometimes devote so much time talking about what’s wrong, we fail to take the next step and do something to fix it.

Since I make such a big deal about that, it’s only fair I send a shoutout to a counselor who has not just thought outside the box, but stepped outside of it as well—and that leads me to Lynda McGee. A long-time counselor who is highly respected by her colleagues, Lynda works at Downtown Magnets High School, a place that is home to many students who will be the first in their families to go to college. Creating a college-going atmosphere has its challenges, so when you’re able to create an atmosphere that has students looking far and wide, you’ve clearly done something.

But that wasn’t good enough for Lynda. Cocktail party colleges boast low admission rates, and because many first gen students take rejection hard, finding ways to support them when a college says no is especially important.

Enter the paper shredder. Based on an idea she borrowed from another counselor, Lynda now hosts a college rejection party. Admission is only by ticket; in this case, your ticket is a rejection letter from a college. Calling students up by college, those in attendance walk up, unfold their letter, and reduce it to a snowy pulp. The student with the most rejections gets a book voucher for college, and all participants get ice cream.

Why make such a big deal out of a no? Lynda tells us in this quote in the LA Times:

“This is a celebration of the fact that you took a risk,” McGee told the four dozen in attendance. “You went for something that you weren’t sure would even work out and in some cases it did not. But you know what? You’re all going to college somewhere.”

In other words, where you don’t go is not who you’ll be.

Magnet kids get into all kinds of great schools, with aid to boot, but Lynda knows too many first gen kids who will dwell on the nos they get more than the acceptances. That’s no way to finish senior year, or to head off to a college that’s perfect for them, so the shredding party is the tonic.

What exactly did it take to challenge this well-established notion that a no is the end of the world? A paper crown, a book voucher, a paper shredder—and a counselor who knows her job isn’t to be a college counselor, but to be a counselor who works with students in the college selection process. This isn’t the first time Lynda has challenged the status quo—you don’t get first gen kids to apply to the low admit schools without breaking some long-held social constructs—and she’s done this with a heart of gold, an iron will, and a vision that sees the big picture.

Which takes us back to you. Lynda made headlines with a rejection party; more important, she made her students stronger and better with a rejection party. Think about what you can do to improve the lives of your students, and you’ll find the gumption and resources to make it happen. And don’t be afraid to borrow from other counselors. Lynda did, and look what happened to her.

Better still—look what happened to her students.

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