School counselors have always played critical roles in the lives of students, but as students are asked to participate in increasingly competitive academic and professional realms, the need for counselors to help guide students is growing. In today’s post by Estelle Shumann, a writer for an Internet resource for students interested in online schools, Estelle argues that every kind of school, from traditional to charter to online, benefits from having a school counselor. Although the ETNI blog pointed out earlier this year that coaching is different than most forms of counseling, school counselors act as coaches to help their students succeed and achieve their goals.
While widespread budget cuts cause school counselors to fear for their jobs, school counselors are often expected to take on more tasks than ever. For years, the role of a school counselor was seen as “working with kids and dealing with their emotional growth problems,” says Dr. Joseph Biscoglio, associate professor of guidance and counseling at the College of New Rochelle. Today, though, Biscoglio asserts that the pressures of college acceptance have changed expectations dramatically. “There's an overwhelming amount of paperwork. In many places, the counselor is dealing with parents who can't speak English and can't help their child.” As technology and legislation continue to alter and complicate the education system, counselors are proving to remain an essential school service.
In recent years, schools have been under intense scrutiny by many parents who feel their children are not being adequately prepared for college and career success. A great deal of the criticism has been directed towards high school counselors, as many parents feel they should act as equal parts guide, motivator and psychologist for their children. Understandably, as increasing numbers of high school and college graduates are having trouble finding jobs or getting into increasingly competitive colleges, many parents are directing their frustrations at counselors. A survey from the non-profit research organization Public Agenda found that most high school graduates feel their counselors provided little meaningful advice about college or careers. However, despite the opinions of students and parents, a growing pool of research is finding that extensive school counseling programs can be exceptionally effective in positively influencing their students' later success.
Many studies have confirmed the importance of school counselors in creating a successful learning environment. Research has shown that school counseling interventions have had a substantial impact on students' educational and personal development. Individual and small-group counseling, and classroom guidance have all proved markedly effective in gauging student success both in the classroom and in later life. Another study, of Missouri high schools, showed that in schools with fully implemented model guidance programs, the student population was overall more likely to achieve higher grades and were receiving more college and career information. The schools with strong guidance programs also reported feeling a more positive climate among students and staff, decreasing classroom disturbances and promoting effective education.
Perhaps most importantly, there is evidence that school counselors can be most effective among students from economically or socially disadvantaged backgrounds. In an issue brief from the American Institutes for Research, it was found that an important part of preparing students for life after high school consists of “early and ongoing counseling for students and their families,” with results for students from troubled backgrounds showing the greatest improvement.
With online programs as well as private, charter and alternative or magnet high schools all gaining traction, the importance in school counselors to guide students through the increasingly complicated education system will only become more apparent. If students are expected to compete in a high tech global marketplace, especially students from disadvantaged backgrounds, on-site school counseling is a critical necessity. When counselors are supported by their school administration and given the freedom to work with students on both emotional and practical issues, school counselors remain a vital component of a sophisticated educational system.
Estelle Shumann is a freelance writer for Online Schools and extremely interested in technology's effect on education and the human mind. She is currently considering a graduate program at Cornell.