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The Guidance Piece of the Puzzle

One of the obstacles to academic achievement, according to The
Education Trust, has been the way guidance counselors are used. Often
burdened with complex scheduling duties and the responsibility to do
individual and group therapy, they are rarely educational advocates for
students — and sometimes, are the exact opposite. Many adults and
current students can point to a guidance counselor who steered them
away from more rigorous classes, telling them that they weren’t
destined for college and would only be setting themselves up for
failure. In the words of Education Trusts’ Patricia Martin, “We’ve been
sorting and selecting and teaching some a very rigorous and others a
watered down curriculum.”

A new Education Trust program, funded by a $3.5 million grant from
the DeWitt Wallace Readers’ Digest Fund, will work to transform the
office of guidance counselor from that of therapist and gatekeeper to
one of advocacy of educational excellence.

The program will begin with six partnerships between universities
and local school districts. Each partnership will work on such issues
as changing school counselor preparation programs and changing the way
school districts use counselors.

The six partnerships are between: California State
University-Northridge and Los Angeles Unified School District; Indiana
State University and Vigo County Public School Corp.; Ohio State
University and Columbus Public Schools; State University of West
Georgia and Clayton County Public Schools; University of Georgia and
Athens-Clarke County Public School District; and the University of
North Florida and Duval County Public Schools.

Fred Bemak, from Ohio State University’s School of Education, said
that the grant “has generated tremendous excitement.” He also said it
has spurred a partnership between the Columbus mayor’s office, the
school system, and state officials so that the new training of school
counselors will be used to its fullest by the partner school systems.

“[Until now,] counselors didn’t have the training or data to help
kids fix the fact that they screwed up in fifth grade,” said Bemak, who
added that with the new approach, this will change.

Susan Sears, also from of Ohio State University, said, “The school
counselor is the only professional who can span the administration and
faculty as well as bringing in the community.” In that way, she said,
counselors are in a “unique position” to make changes in the kind of
education a school provides individual students.

According to The Education Trust, the goal of the initiative is to have school counselors:

* focus on issues, strategies, and interventions that will assist
in closing the achievement gap between poor and minority students and
their more advantaged peers;

* increase the number of poor and minority students, as well as
other students, completing school academically prepared to choose from
a wide range of substantial post-secondary options, including college;

* facilitate student learning, improving academic achievement,
creating access and support for all students to a rigorous academic
preparation; and

* foster conditions that ensure educational equity, access, and academic success for all students K-12.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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