Why School Counselors Matter
Right now, there are families devastated by the most recent government shutdown who are still putting the pieces back together, while hoping this administration staves off another economic upheaval. But guess who else gets caught up in this adult political drama? Children. Imagine having a parent — or in some cases both — worrying about keeping a roof over their heads or putting food on the table and what that does to a child. Who can they turn to? If they’re lucky, they have a school counselor to talk to about it. Unfortunately, nearly 1 in 5 students don’t have access to a school counselor at all. That’s 8 million children with no support system.
School counselors play an important role in ensuring that students have excellent educational experiences. They are part of a school support team who provide essential social-emotional support in addition to academic support. As a mother to an eighth-grader, I have experienced the importance of having a school counselor firsthand. From day one, eighth grade has been a pivotal year, and these whiplash changes can be overwhelming. From selecting a high school and registering for courses, to dealing with physical injury and emotional issues, my daughter has relied on her school counselor all year long. As a parent, I appreciate having someone so vested in my daughter’s well-being and academic success.
But we’ve been fortunate. Oftentimes, those who stand the most to benefit from a school counselor —students of color and students from low-income families — don’t have access to one. The fact is, the schools serving the most students of color or the most students from low-income families are shortchanged when it comes to school counselors. The average student-to-school-counselor ratio in America is 464 to 1. That’s nearly double the ratio recommended by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). But even 250 to 1 sounds like a lot of students for one person to keep track of. (Have you met a teenager?)
Once my daughter enters high school in the fall, the stakes will be even higher to make sure she’s on the right course for college success. So I have every intention of getting to know her high school counselors. After all, Black students are more likely than their White peers to identify their school counselor as the person who had the most influence on their thinking about postsecondary education.
Still, 11 million high schoolers attend a school with not enough school counselors. This is unacceptable. In fact, many of the recent and potential teacher strikes have not only been a fight for better pay, but more resources and supports, such as school counselors. That’s why Ed Trust, Reach Higher, and ASCA have teamed up to produce a fact sheet, which offers data on each of the 50 states, and poses questions that education leaders and advocates can ask their districts about the quality and access to school counselors. Because every child in America deserves to live up to their full potential. That means having access to the academic and social-emotional support they need when they need it.