All students benefit from school counseling programs

As the school year begins, California middle and high school students will benefit from increased access to qualified and credentialed school counselors. The increase in school counselors was due to a bipartisan state budget agreement that allocated $200 million to provide more counselors. Governor Schwarzenegger gave his full support to the addition, recalling his own positive experiences with school counselors as an immigrant high school student.

Locally, the funding has allowed Fresno Unified School District to fund 16 school counselor positions. Clovis Unified School District will fund eight positions targeting middle schools. Rural school districts such as Los Banos, Woodlake, Kingsburg and Orange Cove have also hired new school counselors.

The increase in school counselors will allow our schools to help students pass the California High School Exit Exam, meet high school and college entrance requirements and complete college applications. More counselors will also mean an added focus on meaningful career planning and extra help for students to overcome personal and social development problems that create barriers to learning.

The new funding will bring current California student-counselor ratios of 966:1, closer to the national average of 488:1. Middle school ratios will average 500:1 and high schools could see a 300:1 ratio. California will no longer be counted last in the nation in student-counselor ratios.

As a school counselor educator, I am ecstatic about the increased funding for school counselors and by the fact that school counseling has become part of the education-related vocabulary of our state legislators. For way too long, school counselors have been ignored as contributors to student academic achievement.

Although the increased funding is laudable, with the funding comes the responsibility of school districts to not only hire qualified and credentialed school counselors, but to support their counselors in the implementation of comprehensive programs. The American School Counseling Association (ASCA) National Standards and Model for School Counseling Programs should guide current and new counselors as they develop data-driven programs built on standards in academic, career and personal/social development.

Comprehensive school counseling programs should be implemented by state-credentialed school counselors with pupil personnel services credentials. These professionals have been trained in student learning styles, classroom behavior management, curriculum and instruction, student assessment and student achievement.

Implementing the ASCA standards ensures that programs provide students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to:

  • Complete school with the academic preparation essential to choose from a wide range of substantial postsecondary options, including college.
  • Understand the relationship between personal qualities, education, training and the world of work.
  • Acquire knowledge, attitudes and interpersonal skills that help them understand and respect themselves and others.

To build these programs, school counselors must share the standards and model with their administration and staff, and administrators and staff must support counselors in their work.

Having more school counselors is definitely a move in the right direction to help increase student academic achievement. However, I agree with ASCA President Barbara Blackburn in that the funding is a good first step, but the state and individual schools and districts must now demonstrate their commitment by hiring trained, qualified and certified school counselors and by directing funds to implement comprehensive school counseling programs. To the many newly hired school counselors, congratulations and good luck in your profession and to your school counseling programs.

Diane Talbot directs the school counseling program in the Fresno Pacific University School of Education. She is a professional school counselor and has worked in the Golden Plains Unified School District as well as the Sanger Unified School District. She has served as president of the California Association of Counselor Education and Supervision, the California School Counselor Association and the San Joaquin Counselor Association.