College Board Program Highlights Role of School Counselors
By Joan Baum, Ph.D.
Own the Turf, the College Board’s new program aimed at strengthening the image and performance of the nation’s school counselors by way of offering strategic guidelines to help inspire and prepare youngsters for college and careers, is responding to a growing concern that teachers and parents and even guidance counselors themselves can’t do it all. Own the Turf can also trace its recent debut to data that show that school counselors play an increasingly critical role in getting students into college and staying in college. For Patricia Martin, vice president of the newly instituted National Office of School Counselor Advocacy (NOSCA) of the College Board, the campaign to give guidance counselors, particularly in middle schools and high schools (some districts already involve elementary schools), greater “voice” in the national dialogue, could not come a moment too soon. A nationally known leader in the reform of school counseling, as well as a former teacher, supervisor of counselors, high school principal and school administrator in Prince George’s County in Baltimore, Md., Martin (a B.A. in mathematics, an M.A. in School Counseling) comes to her position as VP of NOSCA with passion as well as experience.
Certainly the fact that “one-quarter of U.S. high school students drop out or fail to graduate on time” and “almost one million students leave our schools for the streets each year,” as U.S. Commissioner of Education Arne Duncan recently reported, only reinforces the need to establish and enhance a “college-going culture” within the nation’s schools, districts and communities. As is, data show that school counselors in many districts of the country, particularly those in large urban areas, are burdened with a student-to-counselor ratio of 467:1, and that’s only the national average.
The idea, however, Ms. Martin notes, is not to advocate for hiring more counselors — although that would be desirable — but to provide a “comprehensive” program for counselors across the country that can serve as a “focused agenda” with “a road map” and “toolkit materials,” including best-practices strategies that can be shared in person or online. The goal is to make college and career preparedness more effective, especially for the growing number of youngsters who are the first in their family to be college bound. Many prospective college freshmen, often minority, immigrant, poor, do not understand the extra-curricular requirements of attending college — getting and paying for required health services, for example. Between the end of June and early September there’s a lot youngsters have to do after having been admitted to college. NOSCA, then, may be considered a professional development initiative for school counselors, K through 12.
We know how to assist kids with the admissions process, Ms. Martin says. What we don’t know is how to ensure that, once admitted to a two- or four-year school, the kids stay there — matters essentially involving academic preparedness (including proper sequencing of, say, algebra to calculus courses), and financial support. Are all counselors aware that much of this kind of information, though complex, can be accessed online?
After studying existing College Board programs, the newly formed NOSCA identified eight basic components, all of which, ideally, should be addressed by the time youngsters are graduated from the 12th grade. Some of the pieces are familiar to counselors, but the need is for all of them to be, as well as for implementation to start early, in elementary school.
The components are: College Aspirations; Academic Planning for College-Career Readiness; Enrichment and Extracurricular Engagement; College and Career Exploration and Selection Processes; College and Career Assessment; College Affordability Planning; College and Career Admissions Processes; Transition from High School Graduation to College Enrollment.
Plans are to have all pieces of the initiative up and running by fall 2012 in at least 10 districts around the country (these have been selected because of their size, their diverse student populations and the fact that the College Board has been working with these districts over the years and can readily augment existing relationships between schools and various organizations, such as College Bound). Of course, Own the Turf is voluntary, and education is, constitutionally, a matter for the states, but as Ms. Martin points out, there is no reason to expect that district superintendents would not subscribe to NOSCA’s goals or appreciate why the initiative is being called a “campaign.” #