Parents must step in when our school counselors have too much on their plates

by Cheryl Kirk

High school counselors play an important role in shaping students’ high school success, but unfortunately, so many children fall through the cracks because there are just not enough counselors.

The average Indiana school counselor is responsible for approximately 634 students. The recommended number by the American School Counselor Association is one counselor for every 250 students.

Chalkbeat Indiana featured a story about this issue and opened with a school counselor who recalled her work with two “smart, promising” students starting in their freshman year. They were accepted to college, but failed Algebra 2 in their senior year. Not only only did they not receive their Core 40 college readiness diplomas, but their colleges notified the students that they were no longer welcome at their colleges. The counselor was heartbroken that she didn’t have the time to see that these young ladies needed extra help.

I applaud school counselors who are dealing with several hundred student schedules at a time, along with all of their administrative responsibilities. I also feel fortunate that my children are at a school where the counselor caseloads are far more manageable–about 1 for every 250 students. The closer my children are to graduation, the more I receive emails from my counselors on things we need to watch for or do in the next few months.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce released a research study exploring how to improve the workload, training and expertise of school counselors, so that schools can do a better job of preparing students for college and career, especially for students of color and those from low-income families. But it doesn’t seem like much will change, at least not without a lot more money devoted to this issue.  

That means the responsibility for handling this will continue to fall on parents, first and foremost. We can’t assume that someone at school is available to give our students the guidance they need to navigate a path to college. As parents we need to educate ourselves so that we can assist our children and school counselors in getting the resources our children need to be successful in high school and prepared for college.

In my case this is my first time preparing children for college, and I have gathered as much information as I could find on how I can help my 11th grade twins pursue a college education.

Center for Leadership Development’s College Prep Institute offers free counseling, placement testing and tutoring. I had both of my children tested the summer before freshman year. My daughter was right on track and my son was lagging in math. I was able to get him tutoring over the summer (I choose a different tutor because of location) and during his freshman year, so we caught it before he began to struggle.

I also learned a great deal during the Success Prep course we completed right before my children entered high school. My children and I set a plan for a diploma track and I am able to contact my counselor if their schedule doesn’t match up with the plan we have in place. My son’s counselor doesn’t always remember that he takes a summer class so that he can have a study hall during football season, or that my daughter in working towards an honors diploma and which classes she still need to take to achieve this goal.

This past summer I also learned about when and how often to to take SAT or ACT, factors to consider when helping my children choose a college, NCAA eligibility requirements, when and how to apply for financial aid and so much more from the College Prep sessions. We are currently acting on most of this guidance–we have registered them to take SAT for the first of three times they will take it and we have started touring colleges to help them think about the best schools to apply to next fall.

For my family, it made a huge difference having a knowledgeable counselor who also had the time to support my children with their specific needs. This support is even more crucial for students whose parents can’t help them prepare and search for college opportunities.