The Ohio Department of Education has adopted new common standards for school counselors. They require counselors to be ready to provide a range of services including academic assistance, career development, and emotional support for students. But lots of school counselors are already doing a lot with a little.
The Counselor/Student Relationship
At Stivers School for the Arts, senior student and valedictorian, Ebi Reyes describes herself as "just an eighteen year old trying to make it.”
'Making it' is just what Ebi is doing, though it hasn’t been easy. She came to the U.S. from Costa Rica 12 years ago with her mom, and she hasn’t seen her Dad since she was 2.
“I know what it’s like, you know, to come home and there’s no food, there’s no water, there’s no electricity, there’s no internet and then you have a 10 page essay. I can totally just sit there and be like ‘well life isn’t helping me out so I’m just not going to do it.'”
Yet, Ebi doesn't sit it out when things aren't going well because says she has had support—from her mom.
“That’s what I’ve seen with kids that excel, there’s always one person behind them pushing them."
Ebi believes success has a snowball effect and "it sort of becomes a part of who you are."
If her mom keeps her focused at home, it’s Ebi's counselor at Stivers who has kept her focused there.
“His nickname is Ace Money because he helps everyone get scholarships. He’s just really one of the most amazing counselors I’ve ever met, and he’s all about it, with everybody. It doesn’t matter if you’re number one or number 145. Like, he’ll help you.”
Ace Money’s real name is David Asadorian. He's been counseling at Stivers since 1998 and says, “My greatest joy is when I can change the student’s life."
Counselors Face Increasing Demands
But changing lives can be tough when counselors like Asadorian are dealing with such a huge range of issues.
“I deal with everything with trying to get students to go to college, trying to prepare them to take the steps to go to college, dealing with students who are not doing what they should be doing to even graduate high school, so it runs the whole gamut.”
Earlier in the school year, Asadorian suggested Ebi apply for a Beat The Odds scholarship from the Children's Defense Fund - Ohio. The award is for Ohio students who "have demonstrated academic excellence, community leadership and desire to continue their education in the face of incredible adversity."
The Stivers counselor says Ebi and many other students are thinking about what's next after high school, but he gets frustrated when students, and even families, don't seem to follow through on taking steps to get ahead.
Asadorian says other teachers and health staff are there to provide support but he is the only counselor in the school with 900 kids. And for the entire Dayton School District, ten counselors serve around 4 thousand high school students.
The new state standards for counselors won’t necessarily relieve the workload. But they could help more counselors accomplish the sorts of things Asadorian is able to.
“We meet with the counselors here in Montgomery County on a quarterly basis, and they basically have come to us and said, ‘we need more resources, we need more help, we need more knowledge,'" says Shannon Cox with the Montgomery County Education Service Center.
Cox says there are six new standards - all meant to aid counselors in their professional development.
“It’s not because our counselors are not bright, good, hardworking, knowledgeable people. We have children and families that are coming in with much different needs than they came in with say, even ten years ago. So, what these standards try to do are outline the different pockets or components that families and students particularly will need addressed now, in 2016.”
One million dollars in funding for the counselor standards pilot program was granted through the last state budget signed by Governor John Kasich. 32 school districts, including Greenview and Anna Local Schools, and Columbus City Schools are testing the new standards. The goal is to have them adopted statewide in 2017.
Once the pilot program is finished, the training for counselors will be provided by the ODE at no cost to counselors themselves, but it’s still unclear how the program would affect school district budgets. Cox says it's not uncommon for state mandates to be handed down unfunded, leaving it up to schools to figure it out. And there’s the question of whether kids are getting pushed in the right direction, to colleges or careers that they’re prepared for. In Montgomery County, 75 percent of graduates do go to college within a couple years of graduation. But only 35 percent of those actually graduate. What's Next is a WYSO series produced in partnership with Think TV. It's part of the public media initiative American Graduate, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.