College & Workforce Readiness

Students to School Board: Please Hire More Counselors

By Catherine Gewertz — February 19, 2016 2 min read
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Advocates for adolescents have long pressed policymakers to bolster the counseling ranks in high schools. But this week, the students themselves stepped up to demand more counseling support.

On Tuesday, a group of students in Durham, N.C., appeared before their school district leadership and made a plea for more counselors in their schools. It was the second time this month they had lobbied the school board. With their teachers in tow, three dozen students paid a visit to the school board on Feb. 1, too.

The students urged the school board to hire more counselors to ease the load on the counselors who are struggling to serve all their students, according to the Herald-Sun newspaper.

On their second visit, the students brought a plan they’d drafted to persuade the Durham Public Schools that it can afford to hire three more counselors, including one who speaks Spanish. The students’ plan projected the cost for the three counselors to be $150,000 to $225,000 a year, including salary and benefits, the Herald-Sun reported.

The students are focusing on the district’s budget advisory committee, which is wrestling with the district’s spending plan before the full board considers it. The district faces layoffs and a budget shortfall of $15 million, the Herald-Sun said.

Jessica Duhon, a junior at Jordan High School, told the committee that improving counseling services at the district’s high schools “helps everyone, from the senior trying to maximize their chance of getting into college, to the freshman that’s going to give up and drop out if no one is there to encourage them to work hard for a better future,” the newspaper reported.

Another student, Laura Salazar, a junior at Riverside High School, called attention to a counseling disparity between schools: Two of the district’s lowest-performing high schools have the highest counselor-to-student ratios, while a top-performing school has more counselors per student.

High schools across the country have long struggled with having too few school counselors. The American School Counselor Association, recommends one counselor for every 250 students. The National Association for College Admission Counseling, which keeps a list of states’ and districts’ counseling ratios, says Durham’s is 291 to 1.

Many schools and districts have worse ratios than that; NACAC reported a few years ago that the ratio nationally was 470 to 1. In California, it’s been much worse than that, reaching one counselor for every 1,016 students. Students themselves have reported in polls that their college and career planning is hobbled by lack of counseling. The way counselors are trained and deployed has been problematic in many places, too.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.