What do you do when you enter a position as a professional school counselor with no job description, job evaluation, or head counselor supervision? You develop the program to be what you want it to be. Well, what I wanted was a comprehensive school counseling program at a small K-8 school district in Southern California. I began my mission by emphasizing to administration the importance of acknowledging the three domains of our work, as addressed in ASCA’s national standards: Academic, Career, and Personal/Social. Quickly into my first year, I realized how important it was for others to truly understand what the role of a school counselor is. So, I attended staff meetings and provided updates as to what issues I was noticing were prevalent in my office. One by one, I entered classrooms to introduce myself to staff members and attempt to make a personal connection with each educator, as well as with the front office staff.
With a district level administrator charged with supervising me, although never having been a counselor herself, I provided her with the ASCA national model as well as a blueprint for how this might be accomplished in our own school district. Putting my ambition into the driver’s seat, I set out to conduct classroom guidance lessons, small group counseling sessions, individual counseling, provide consultation to teachers, among many other tasks. Over the course of the next five years, I was able to implement numerous group counseling topics, provide consultation to teachers and parents alike, and partake in individual counseling sessions that comprised nearly 15,000 minutes, on the average for one school year. I created an Organizational Boot Camp that occurred on a bi-weekly basis for identified students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. I spent hours outside of the school day networking and creating partnerships with organizations and local colleges.
Over the course of a few years, I created a file system with college information—brochures and pamphlets. While this was a project that I had envisioned for some time, I knew that it was not a top priority to my administrators. So I had to get creative. I solicit assistance from parents who wanted to volunteer. One thing I found is that often times parents want to volunteer at the middle school level, but don’t know where they can fit in. I highly encourage counselors to utilize the volunteerism of parents or other individuals, such as college students. I had one parent take home a college guide book and make me a spreadsheet of all of the highlighted colleges and their email addresses. Then, with one email, I sent out a request for free promotional materials and information from colleges. In the subsequent months, I ended up with more than 200 college pennants and 3 file cabinets full of college materials. Shortly after, I sparked an idea. I would have a schedule for parents to come into the counseling office to volunteer. Just once a month is what I thought would work. After about 4 months, I realized that there was more of a parent interest than I thought. One day I received a phone call from a parent who I had a strong relationship with. She informed me that volunteering in my office became a topic of conversation at a recent PTO meeting. In comparison to recent years, there was an influx of parents available to assist as the unemployment rates increased. Somewhat sadly, I chose to capitalize on this opportunity. And I am so glad that I did. Over the next couple years, these relationships became crucial.
When I was first hired for this position, I was offered a full-time, 5 day a week position working 3 days a week at a middle school and 2 days a week at a K-8 school, creating a caseload of about 1,100 students. After 2 years, my district was facing substantial budget cuts and I was cut to 4 days a week. However, I was still expected to provide the same service to my students and staff. The following year, I received notice that my position may be eliminated completely for the upcoming school year. I knew that I had to put my advocacy efforts into action: it was now or never. Fervently, I spoke to parents about the potential cuts. And that was all it took in order to get the wheels in motion. My school board members began to get a flood of emails and phone calls in support of school counselors. Some parents sent a simple email challenging this potential decision, while other parents wrote lengthy descriptions of how I, as their child’s school counselor, had impacted their life, academically or otherwise. So, what was the verdict? Well, my position continued at an 80% contract, and to this day remains at this level.
I guess the main point I would like to make here is that it only takes one. One person speak up, one person to promote the message, and importantly, one person to listen. I was the person to speak up and advocate on behalf of many students. One parent took the initiative to advocate on my behalf. And one school board members to listen to our message.
Sandi Logan is school counselor and currently a doctoral student in the Counselor Education and Supervision program at University of Florida. Prior to pursuing further studies, she worked as an elementary and middle school counselor in Southern California.