CEO and Founder of Teach1-Reach1, LLC Educational Consulting.
School counselors are especially positioned to help schools and students recover from the pandemics. There are two viruses (Racism and Covid-19) happening at the same time that are taking the lives of innocent people and affecting the education of our children. The devastation from these two viruses came to a climax in the year 2020 but they have both been alive and present in the United States for more than 100 years. If we continue to ignore the harmful effects of these viruses by making excuses and allowing politics to determine the actions necessary to kill them then we are accepting the fact that no life matters unless it is our own.
The roles of school counselors have changed dramatically in the last 25 years and they have more demands and larger caseloads put on them with less support from the school systems. They have been assigned inappropriate roles such as discipline, substitute, cafeteria supervisor, or hall monitor because they are considered non-load bearing thus easier to move around to fill gaps to help the building function. Counselors like medical doctors are in need of constant training to stay informed with the methods and solutions to keep students safe mentally, physically, and socially. School districts should revisit their budgets and create funding for counselors to be trained in the areas of anti-racist policies, supporting students of color fairly, and developing better advising plans for every student.
The pandemic of 2020 caused life as we know it to come to a pause across the world. The nation had been quarantined to their homes and people were growing weary due to the thousands of people that were dying in each state and there was no visible cure available. True fear and panic had taken over and people were in need of mental health services that could not obtain because of the physical restraints placed on them by the laws set in place to keep us safe and apart from each other. The schools were closed and the students lost their social connections without warning which caused an unforeseen mental health crisis that could not be addressed at the schools. The schools adopted virtual and online learning to continue the education of the children. The school counselors’ roles were increased and they had to reinvent the manner in which counseling could take place. The increased need for Social Emotional Learning (SEL) to be taught by the teachers and counselors became a new part of the curriculum.
The world is in search of a return to normal and that does not exist anymore. Counselors will be responsible for helping children and adults find a new normal in order to exist once the pandemic is over. The students, parents, and all staff of the buildings have some type of loss that they have not processed. The return to school will be difficult for everyone and the effects of the pandemic, racial tensions, and increased poverty will be issues that will take some time to resolve. Counselors will need a new type of training to support the new learning environment. They will return to work with the expectation to solve more conflicts and to have more conversations about racism and death. Schools have employed more police than school counselors and there is not any evidence of the effectiveness of the security officers but there is evidence that supports that school counselors are implementing counseling programs that increase attendance, decrease behavioral issues, and are more likely to increase the graduation rate of students while also increasing the number of students that enter college or some type of post-secondary training. The increased funding could balance the work on counselors and that would allow them to engage the students with group and individual counseling.
Again, counselors will need the training and patience to deal with the students when they return to the buildings. The schools and colleges have acknowledged that there is more staff needed to address the mental health challenges of the students and staff. The two pandemics have taught us all that we all need one another to survive.
Sheryl Williams has over 30 years of experience in the field of education as a teacher, guidance counselor, curriculum supervisor, central office administrator, and instructional content coaching. She has served as a middle school math and science teacher and science department head in Detroit and Southfield, Michigan. She has also served as a high school guidance counselor, ACT test coach, administrator for K-12 math and science curriculum and a central office administrator for enrollment services and pupil accounting for the Pontiac School District in Michigan. She is a certified Medical Laboratory Technician and holds a number of degrees and certifications including a BA in General Studies/Human Resources, an MA in Counseling, an MA in Teaching Mathematics and an Education Specialist degree in Educational Leadership. She holds certifications as an Elementary instructor grades K-5 all subjects (K-8 all subjects in a self-contained classroom), Mathematics and science grades 6-12, K-12 School counselor, Central Office, Elementary and Secondary Administration grades K-12. Sheryl is also a certified instruction content coach for mathematics and science. She holds 5 certifications in Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). She is the CEO and Founder of Teach1-Reach1, LLC Educational Consulting.
Executive Director Center for Equity and Postsecondary Attainment
We know that access to the best information influences students’ college decisions. Yet, Black, Brown, and Indigenous students, and those residing in low-income homes or who are the first in their family to attend college experience the cradle to career pipeline differently. Lacking access to pertinent material and key sources of support to make informed decisions about whether and how to pursue a college degree, they must fend for themselves and sort through an endless amount of data and discordant information.
School counselors have long been viewed as pivotal actors in supporting students as they make the transition from high school to college or career, however what that looks like varies significantly from high school to high school. With over more than 1.7 million students attending schools with police but no school counselor and school counselor to student ratios and job expectations varying widely, how are students sorting through the complex array of information? Researchers Laura Owen (San Diego State University), Tim Poynton (University of Massachusetts-Boston) and Raeal Moore (ACT) partnered to better understand students’ sources of college and career information and the most effective communication method for receiving this information. The entire study and its findings can be found in the Journal of College Access.
Sources of Support: People
According to the survey findings, school counselors and college admissions counselors are the most preferred source (65% prefer HS counselor; 63% prefer admissions counselors) for college and career information. Students who prefer to receive college and career information from their school counselor describe their school counselor as the most knowledgeable and best positioned to share accurate and personalized information regarding college and career opportunities.
Students also expressed that the amount of information available to them was completely overwhelming and they expect their school counselor will help them sort through all of it. Students who ranked their school counselor as the most preferred source of college and career information also viewed their school counselor as the most knowledgeable and trusted that the school counselor had their best interest in mind. However, students also shared concerns about the lack of access to their school counselor, often when they need them the most.
Students who prefer to receive college and career information from someone other than their school counselor also trust their advice and believe they have the students’ best interest in mind.
Regardless of who students identified as their preferred source of information, they perceive this person to be the most knowledgeable provider of college advice and they see them as an expert who they can trust.
Having a trusted adult to rely on for postsecondary guidance is essential, however assuming that anyone can provide this support or that all college and career advice is equal is not only misguided, it’s dangerous. Researchers, practitioners, parents and students have long noted that the postsecondary counseling and advising system was never designed to serve all students. It is unacceptable to acknowledge these glaring problems, yet continue to sit back and watch it unfold, as if admitting the problem absolves us from finding solutions. Until we commit to reviewing and dismantling school policies and practices that lead to inequitable and decreased postsecondary opportunity, we are all just accomplices in holding up an advising and counseling system designed to support the most affluent, educated and predominantly White communities. What do we need to do differently?
Hire diverse school counseling practitioners whose lived experiences align with, provide context and celebrate the communities, students and families they serve.
School counselor training programs must recruit and train more Black, Brown and Indigenous school counselors and college and career advisors to fill these new positions.
Improve the preparation of all professionals who provide college and career information. From pre-service training to professional development, the need for ongoing, equity centered training must be non-negotiable. School counselors should be allocated time to attend professional development that is directly aligned to college and career counseling – and professional development needs to be embedded into their jobs as it is for teachers and administrators.
COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated long standing systemic, structural and institutional educational inequities. We must be intentional in our pandemic recovery to dismantle these inequitable practices and replace them with interventions and practices that promote enrollment, persistence and completion for all students.
New postsecondary advising and counseling models should challenge existing Eurocentric practices, elevate diverse perspectives, call out racist policies and practices and ensure substantive counseling and advising support is provided to disenfranchised families and students.
Given the especially critical role school counselors play in helping students attending high minority, high poverty schools, professional development is not only needed to increase counseling skills and knowledge, but it is also requisite that all school counselors challenge the inequities built into the educational system, call out the policies and practices that perpetuate racism, ableism and other discriminatory practices and acknowledge their role in changing the deficit lens through which too many children are viewed.
Preferences for information and perceived helpfulness would most certainly shift if we embraced these changes. Currently, perceived helpfulness does not line up perfectly with student preferences for information. While students prefer to receive college and career information from their high school counselor, they do not find them to be the most helpful. This could be in part because students consistently mentioned how difficult it is to meet with their counselor. First generation students and students from low-income families ranked their school counselor as the most helpful source of information, however as parental income levels and postsecondary degree attainment increased, viewing school counselors as their preferred source of college and career information decreased in lock step fashion.
Students indicated that the internet is their most helpful source of college and career information. Although information is readily available on the internet, it does not mean students have knowledge, access, or understanding of what is available or how to discriminate between accurate, helpful information versus harmful guidance on the internet. While the Internet was rated to be a helpful source of information, it was also among the least-preferred information sources, with interpersonal communication methods (email and one-on-one) being the most preferred. Students (and adults) need help determining which internet resources are useful, accurate and meet their needs.
Email and one on one conversations were the most preferred means of communicating college and career information (69% prefer email and 48% prefer one on one). This finding was replicated in another study and upon further conversation with the students, it was discovered that students were using email as a protective shield to help them sort out communication in which they did not want to engage in. This is somewhat alarming given the high rate of communication that higher education institutions send out through email. Many students miss key pieces of information because they are not opening their inboxes.
Understanding the ways in which students are engaging with technology is an important piece of the advising puzzle. We can educate college and career advising professionals on this common practice so they can begin to help students understand how email is used by higher ed institutions and why engaging with email to filter unwanted contact can cause problems that may potentially lead to the loss of key opportunities. Also, we may be seeing another manifestation of the role relationships play in their decision-making process. Students prefer one-on-one contact, which makes complete sense given the complex yet personal nature of navigating the postsecondary pipeline. They prefer to open email from someone they know, just as they engage in conversations with someone who they find as knowledgeable, trustworthy, and accurate. We need to ensure that we are building a system that provides access to knowledgeable and trustworthy college and career advising professionals, one that ensures support for all students especially those who have been discriminated against. We are all responsible for calling this out and demanding the college counseling changes that must happen now.
The findings of this study are useful for K‐12 education, college access, and higher education professionals to consider when developing policies and programs to provide college and career information to students.
*This blog is printed and posted in collaboration with ACT.org here.
“I believe everyone is born into the world to do something unique and distinctive.”
Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays
We echo the sentiments of Dr. Mays. Every individual has the ability to contribute something special and unique to society, particularly our students who live in urban settings. To help students maximize their abilities, certain skills and training are needed for them to optimize their potential. Therefore, an education at the secondary and postsecondary levels are an important part of the process given that the majority of individuals use their gifts and talents in their careers, fulfilling their purpose, or in their life’s calling. Moreover, we believe a postsecondary education can play a vital role in the lives of one of our most vulnerable populations from urban settings.
Attaining a postsecondary education can lead to improved career opportunities, higher salaries, and a better quality of life (Carnevale et al., 2015; Hines et al., 2020a). Former First Lady Michelle Obama created the Reach Higher Initiative (now Better Make Room) during her tenure to encourage ALL students to pursue an education or training beyond high school as former President Barack Obama’s North Star initiative centered around being a global leader in producing the higher proportion of college graduates by 2020. Currently, the Biden-Harris Administration priorities include positioning the middle class to compete in a global economy by improving the United States’ global standing in the world. A postsecondary education is vital in order for the aforementioned to be accomplished. More importantly, we must ensure students of color, women, and potential first generation students are not left out of the equation, especially those from urban school settings.
Preparing students in urban schools for postsecondary education must be innovative and transforming. We must engage them and meet them where they are rather than trying to get them to meet educators where they are. Therefore, we propose integrating hip-hop based practices with college and career readiness activities as a method to ready urban students for postsecondary opportunities.
Hip-Hop based practices in education, broadly, span decades (Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2002; Stovall, 2006, Alim, 2011; Ewing, 2014, Levy & Adjapong, 2020) all calling for the need to infuse culturally sustaining approaches into our school curricula. Hip-Hop based approaches are often rooted in a foundational understanding of hip-hop culture as a movement that amplified Black and Brown voices against systemic ills (Chang, 2005), using documents like mixtapes to protect the culture from erasure (Ball, 2011). Drawing from the reality that the educational system in America has historically weaponized assimilative praxis to minimize the voices of Black and Brown youth, Emdin (2016) calls for the use of hip-hop based approaches to support youth in reclaiming knowledge, culture, and history. Therefore, contemporary understandings of hip-hop in educational spaces believe in activating youth as change agents, who pull from their intra- and interpersonal network of resources to engage in the creation of multimodal hip-hop projects that simultaneously advocate for social justice and spur academic, career, and social and emotional development (Adjapong, 2019; Levy & Travis, 2020; Washington, 2018). This social justice or strengths-based hip-hop scholarship pulls from the core belief that hip-hop is resilience, leverages joy, and corrals the community to make sense of and combat external realities – the proverbial rose that grew from concrete (Shakur, 1999). As hip-hop practices have been more trendy, particularly in the realm of counseling and therapy, practitioners need to be careful to not frame Black and Brown youth solely as traumatized, broken, or in need of saving. Both education and counseling often operate from deficit models which pathologize youth experience, label concerns as internal, and then call for interventions to fix said problems. This is the antithesis of hip-hop which is a response to ecological contexts that produce feelings, and illustrates how the education system can erase culture through pulling hip-hop based practices into the matrix of assimilative praxis if its practitioners are not intentionally critical. Use of hip-hop practices in school counseling argues for a shift away from a deficit lens, seeing youth as complex, irreducible (Hannon & Vareen, 2016) and asset-rich (Bryant & Henry, 2012), human beings who can optimize their internal capacities if we as educators create the systems to do so (and abolish the ones that don’t). Therefore, Bettina Love’s (2019) call for the centering of joy and love in our education practices is essential in hip-hop because it allows educators the ability to see youth as complex individuals and foster their knowledge and capacity to actualize.
In school counseling practice, we’ve seen hip-hop leveraged as a small-group intervention (where students write, record, and perform emotionally themed music) to support students with navigating stress, anxiety, depression (Levy & Travis, 2020) and developing coping skills (Levy, 2019). In collaboration with teachers, hip-hop lyric writing interventions around science content have enabled the simultaneous acquisition of academic content and the processing of social and emotional concerns (Emdin et al., 2016). Youth have led initiatives to design physical school spaces, in the form of hip-hop studios, as potential safe-havens to express themselves authentically, process difficult emotions, and build relationships with peers (Levy & Adjapong, 2020). In each of these interventions, youth were positioned as experts of their own stories and development, who called on educators and schools to relinquish control and allow them to display their brilliance.
Some researchers (Lee & Goodnough, 2018; Lunenburg, 2010) note that schools are systems. Moreover, these systems have subsystems (e.g., community, family, and district) that impact the academic, socioemotional, college, and career outcomes of students (Bronfenbrenner, 2005). For this reason, we have adapted an integrated, systemic approach with programmatic intervention levels created by Lee and Goodnough (2018) to incorporate college and career readiness activities with hip-hop based practices to prepare students in urban school settings for postsecondary options. See table below.
College & Career Readiness Activity
Hip-Hop Based Practices
Instill the belief that college or a postsecondary pathway is a viable option; Working with students at the middle and high school levels to choose college and career ready courses for postsecondary preparation (academic/educational planning); Working with a student through career assessments to help them understand their career options, gifts, interests, and talents.
Lyric Writing as Emotive Journaling: Lyric writing can be used as an assessment, where school counselors co-select an instrumental beat with youth, and have them reflect lyrically on their strengths, areas of growth, and then goal setting. For example, students might construct a song titled “5-year plan” where they set long-term and short-term goals. This inherently narrative and aspirational verse can illuminate myriad student assets that can be used in the college and career planning process.
Discussions around navigating the postsecondary process with students from urban school settings on topics such as potential barriers, advantages-learning how to thrive in new environments, and learning to code switch.
Collaboration as Role-play is a hip-hop and school counseling tactic that engages students in the discussing, processing, and co-constructing of a song around a shared emotional theme. In the content of CCR work, students can collaborate on songs around transitions to college, financial planning, or imagining how they would navigate the slew of barriers that exist on college campuses. The act of having students engage in this work in pairs to help students preemptively develop skill to navigate future barriers, but also learn from their peers about alternative tactics.
Show movies/documentaries on postsecondary institutions (e.g., Higher Learning or School Daze) to discuss the nuances of being a student in those postsecondary settings, especially students of color, first generation, and English Language Learners.
Mixtape Making as a school counseling large-group process tasks students with highlighting a social justice theme of importance to them (retention issues on college campuses), which they then research, discuss, and plan a multimodal music project around. This might mean students, over the course of a series of classroom counseling lessons, construct multiple songs, a music video, artwork, and/or a social media campaign which helps them disseminate their findings. Germane to mixtape creation however, the research has to be strong. Meaning students need to be able to understand, and report out on retention issues, even developing personal solutions to navigate external challenges. Ancillary skill development is also apparent here including research and writing skills, public speaking, social media marketing, tangible art making skills, and many others.
Bring guest speakers who live/or from urban areas with postsecondary credentials. Also, have guest speakers who have backgrounds in hip-hop and pursued and attained a postsecondary education.
School counselors might organize a panel of speakers who have drawn from hip-hop to construct innovative careers across disciplines. Notable professionals exist across scholarly disciplines, as well the fields of business, architecture, the nonprofit sector, and service industries who have each leveraged hip-hop sensibilities to transcend music and art and find success in other fields. However, grade level hip-hop interventions should not be limited to external guest speakers or experts. Students who have engaged in rigorous and creative mixtape making can share-out their research and findings via grade-level shows. This offers each grade level the opportunity to digest the relevant mixtape content. For example, homerooms at each grade level can then process the show with guide breakout discussions that future explore the college and career process.
Create a college going culture throughout the school (signs, posters of postsecondary institutions, positive/inspirational messages); College/Vocational night; College virtual/physical tours; Partner with local colleges universities, and vocational schools for programming (Hines et al, 2020b).
Immersive College Tours can follow the creation of student-made mixtapes. School counselors deploying Hip-hop informed CCR must form partnerships with college campuses, prior to college visits, to carve out opportunities for students to share their work. For example, a school counselor might identify a Black Student Union on a college campus to collaboratively hold an open-mic event where college students and high school students can perform. Then, in addition to the normal tour activities, an experiential/immersive open-mic event can occur where students share out their rhymes about retention, transitions, and/or five-year plans, while also building community within otherwise potentially isolating campuses. Much like a post-tour reflection that artists engage in, a post-college tour reflection can be facilitated by school counselors. Here school counselors guide youth though processing their college visit, reflection on the open-mic event, but also fit. The immersive nature of the tour should increase the depth of the reflections, as students are offered a genuine opportunity to assess feelings of connectedness or lack thereof. Pictures or documents from the college-tour performances can then be displayed across the school building to create a college-going culture that looks and feels relevant to students.
District school counselor supervisors can align the college and career readiness curriculum (district wide) where all school counselors are using the same pedagogy to merge hip-hop based practices and postsecondary readiness.
Experts in hip-hop based practices can come in and facilitate a district wide training for ALL school counselors. For example, a recent study explored a hip-hop based active listening skill professional development that focused on practicing the dialogical skills needed to engage in hip-hop work individually and in groups (Levy & Lemberger-Truelove, 2021).
Meet with family to talk about shared aspirations and goals of their child’s postsecondary future.
At the family level, hip-hop based practices can be used as a tool to engage parents/guardians in dialogue around youth’s career and college aspirations. Opportunities in this arena are vast, including parent meetings where students share songs (like their five-year plan) with their parents and then discuss the content. This can happen in an individual students and family context, or as a larger listening party where a small-group of students share their entire mixtape with parents, to facilitate a larger discussion around the college and career process. Viewing family as an asset in supporting student development, opportunities may arise for parents to lead workshops (across music, art, research, business and marketing disciplines) that help elevate mixtape projects.
Facilitate college and career readiness workshops at a local community center or church.
Community engagement opportunities include: Developing a college and career festival featuring local hip-hop artists who have postsecondary backgrounds to perform and/or speak on a panel about topics on college and career readiness. Paying local community members to run after-school programming that focuses on beat making, music engineering, clothing design, graphic design, social media marketing, etc.
Our integrative approach to college and career readiness using hip-hop based practices is not exhausted and can be a foundation for helping students from urban settings with postsecondary planning. Hip-Hop can be a remedy for helping students aspire to education and training beyond high school that will not only give them optimal career outcomes, but reinforce that a culture rooted in love and asset-based can play an important role in their personal development.
Ian Levy, EdD is an Assistant Professor and Director of the School Counseling Program at Manhattan College, a New York City native, former High School counselor, and the Vice President of Counselor Educators for the New York State School Counselors association. His research interests include the examination of mental health practices in urban schools, which entails exploring the effective use of the school counselor and other school staff to support the emotional lives of young people. Most notably, Dr. Levy piloted the development, implementation, and evaluation of a Hip-Hop based counseling framework that engaged students in small-group counseling through the writing, recording and performing of emotionally-themed mixtapes. His work has been featured on various news outlets including the New York Times, and CNN, and published a variety of reputable academic journals. In 2016 he was named the New York State School Counselor of the Year. Ian is a co-editor of the HipHopEd: The Compilation on Hip-Hop Education, Volume 2, and author of a forthcoming research monograph with Routledge titled Hip-Hop and Spoken Word Therapy in School Counseling: Developing Culturally Responsive Approaches (in May, 2021). Ian is also an emcee, and released his album – And Then It Glistens – in 2020.
Erik Hines, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems at the Florida State University as well as the coordinator of the Counselor Education Program and School Counseling Track. Dr. Hines prepares graduate students to be professional school counselors. Dr. Hines’s research agenda centers around: (a) college and career readiness for African American males; (b) parental involvement and its impact on academic achievement for students of color; and (c) improving and increasing postsecondary opportunities for first generation, low-income, and students of color (particularly African American males). Additionally, his research interests include career exploration in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) for students of color. Dr. Hines has secured research funding to study the college readiness and persistence of African American males to improve their academic and career outcomes. His research has appeared in peer-reviewed journals, such as the Journal of Counselingand Development, Professional School Counseling, The High School Journal, and Urban Education. Equally important, Dr. Hines is an ACA Fellow. Dr. Hines received his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, College Park in Counselor Education with a concentration in Urban School Counseling. Finally, he has worked as a counselor in various K-12 settings and for the Ronald E McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program.
Adjapong, E. (2019). Towards a practice of emancipation in urban schools: A look at student experiences through the science genius battles program. Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies, 6(1), 15–27.
Adjapong, E. S., & Emdin, C. (2015). Rethinking pedagogy in urban spaces: Implementing hip-hop pedagogy in the urban science classroom. Journal of Urban Learning, Teaching, and Research, 11, 66–77.
Adjapong, E.S., & Levy, I. (2020). Hip-hop can heal: Addressing mental health through hip-hop in the classroom. The New Educator. 10.1080/1547688X. 2020.1849884
Alim, H. S. (2011). Global ill-literacies: Hip hop cultures, youth identities, and the politics of literacy. Review of Research in Education, 35(1), 120-146.
Ball, J. A. (2011). I mix what I like! A mixtape manifesto. Oakland, CA: AK Press.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Ecological models of human development. In M. Gauvain & M. Cole (Eds). Readings on the development of children (4th ed.). Worth.
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Carnevale, A. P., Cheah, B., & Hanson, A. R. (2015). The economic values of college majors. https:// cew.georgetown.edu/cew-reports/valueofcollegemajors/
Emdin, C. (2016). For White folks who teach in the hood… and the rest of y’all too: Reality pedagogy and urban education. Beacon Press.
Ewing, E. L. (2014). Schooling Hip-Hop: Expanding Hip-Hop Based Education Across the Curriculum. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 125–128.
Hannon, M. D., & Vereen, L. G. (2016). Irreducibility of Black male clients: Considerations for culturally competent counseling. The Journal of Humanistic Counseling, 55(3), 234–245.
Hines, E.M., Hines, M. R., Moore, J.L. III., Steen, S, Singleton, II, P., Cintron, D., Traverso, K., Golden, M. N., Wathen, B., & Henderson, J.A. (2020a). Preparing African American males for college: A group counseling approach. TheJournal for Specialists in Group Work, 45(2), 129-145. https://doi.org/10.1080/01933922.2020.1740846
Hines, E.M., Moore III, J.L., Mayes, R.D., Harris, P.C., Vega, D, Robinson, D.V., Gray, C.N., & Jackson, C.E. (2020b). Making student achievement a priority: The role of school counselors in turnaround schools. Urban Education, 55(2) 216-237. https://doi.org/10.1177/0042085916685761
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Morrell, E., & Duncan-Andrade, J. M. (2002). Promoting academic literacy with urban youth through engaging hip-hop culture. English Journal, 88–92.
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Stovall, D. (2006). We can relate: Hip-hop culture, critical pedagogy, and the secondary classroom. Urban Education, 41(6), 585–602.
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Associate Professor, Educational Leadership & Higher Education, Boston College
Sadly, high school students’ zip code and their family background are the best predictors of whether and where they begin higher education. We all want to change this disgraceful picture for the sake of our students and our society. Even before the pandemic, our usual face-to-face methods have been unsuccessful in moving the needle on equity in college access. School counselors have large caseloads and responsibilities beyond college advising. Intensive out-of-school college access programs are expensive and reach relatively few students. Even these in-person connections largely disappeared for the pandemic era graduating classes of 2020 and 2021. Now and in the future, we need to find affordable ways to reach hundreds of thousands of college-intending students with effective application and financial aid assistance.
Enter text message college advising. Today’s youth live on their phones. According to the Pew Foundation, 95% of U.S. teenagers own a cell phone. About half say they are on their phone “almost constantly.” Delivering advising fully or partly through cell phone text messages has the promise of reaching students with timely, individualized, two-way communications. Text message college advising campaigns have begun to emerge over the past decade and the first results from these large-scale interventions are just beginning to be published.
The founders of College Counseling Now studied one of the most ambitious text message interventions to date: Digital Messaging to Improve College Success—DIMES. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, DIMES involved nearly 75,000 students from over 700 high-poverty high schools across 15 states. DIMES was intended to influence college application behavior and enrollment outcomes as measured by the difference between treatment and control groups at the end of the trial. Like other recently reported trials, overall results were disappointing. We set out to understand why by analyzing the content of the advising: the 400,000 text messages that students sent to their advisors over the 15 months of DIMES. What kinds of topics do students raise with advisors through text message? Is it possible for students to establish relationships with advisors via text message? Are student needs and concerns sufficiently similar in content and timing that advising could be automated? How do DIMES student participants experience this mode of advising?
We learned a lot—about how text message advising works and about why and when it does not. Our analysis of the messages showed what advisors might mistakenly assume that students know and understand. It showed what students need, and when they need it. You can read about our findings and recommendations in the Journal of College Access and see a video of our recent presentation on text message advising at the National School Counseling Leadership Conference.
Text message advising is not yet the great equalizer we’ve all been seeking. Not yet. It is too soon to abandon the promise of this wide reaching, cost-effective strategy, however. My co-researchers and I will share the many important lessons from DIMES in future blogs. We call on others to join the College Counseling Now conversation about what we are all learning about effective text message advising.
A School Counselor and AVID Coordinator share Reach Higher Stories from Riverside, CA, and all over the nation!
In 2018, my friend, Dan, and I started a podcast called Reach Higher Riverside for educators and school counselors. It started with a conversation as we were discussing podcasts and how I wished there were a podcast about the Reach Higher Initiative. Dan then said, “Why don’t we start one?” At first, I thought no way, but he somehow convinced me to start a podcast and so it began! We share Reach Higher stories from local, state, and national leaders across the nation. This past year we taped 15 episodes with listeners from 37 different countries! I have had the honor to interview some of the most amazing people and so many educational heroes.
What is the Reach Higher Initiative?
Reach Higher, an initiative launched by former First Lady, Michelle Obama in 2014, is designed to inspire a college-going culture, ultimately leading to an increase in postsecondary access and success for our nation’s students. With a focus on first-generation and low income youth the initiative is centered around activating support systems to help students gain access to the tools and opportunities they need to “reach higher” and obtain a postsecondary degree whether at a traditional four-year college, a two-year community college, or through an industry-recognized training program. Feel free to check out our podcast on your favorite Podcast platform! You can find information on our website here: https://bit.ly/ReachHigherRiverside
Executive Director, Center for Equity and Postsecondary Attainment, San Diego State University & Doctoral Candidate, Boston College, Higher Education
Never has it been more evident that our postsecondary pipeline and advising systems need a major overhaul. Students and adults have long noted that the support they desire falls woefully short, leaving too many without the guidance they deserve and need. School counselors are licensed, trained and prepared to serve all students, yet they are consistently bereft of the resources necessary to meet the competing demands of their job. Magnified by an all consuming pandemic with emerging and competing areas of need (COVID-19, mental health, racial injustice and postsecondary planning), we can no longer continue to ignore this shortfall without being accomplices in maintaining this system that perpetuates inequitable postsecondary opportunities.
The past year has amplified the isolation so many of us have felt. None more so than graduate students who struggle under normal conditions to remain connected due to the nature of their programs and excessive time demands.
Success at the doctoral level isn’t easy to come by with roughly half of students leaving their programs before graduation. Minoritized doctoral students are especially vulnerable. Managing several expectations and projects simultaneously is the norm we operate within, often without the institutional support we are in dire need of. In light of the events of this last year, I ask myself what will happen to us now and in the future, given that we are and have been overlooked in higher education? The seemingly endless bad news on so many different fronts has been crippling to say the least. The small moments I used to share with my peers (of color) on campus, which notably included processing hard realities seems so far away. I have noticed more and more instances where I struggle to catch my breath due to the sheer volume of all that has been transpiring. I have been trying to push myself forward while also coming to grips with a political system and nation that has continued to fall apart. I’ve lied awake worrying simultaneously about protecting my aging parents from COVID-19 and how I will get enough participants for my dissertation study. We matter and we need support.
Venus Israni, Doctoral Candidate, Boston College, Higher Education
K-12 students face similar concerns, attempting virtual, face-to-face and hybrid formats of school while also providing day care for younger siblings whose parents are working at essential jobs. School counselors are meeting with heartbroken students whose loved ones have contracted COVID-19 and, in some cases, passed on. Counselors are listening to the concerns of racially marginalized and isolated students who are just plain “done with everything” and have checked out. They are addressing the mental health concerns of parents and staff while doing everything in their power to ensure that the individualized needs of every student on their caseload are met. They are overseeing food distribution, helping with homelessness and collaborating with community partners to address an increasing set of needs. While the ground underneath them seems to shift every five minutes, school counselors are working with students who face increased academic struggles in the face of this new model of learning.
Under any other circumstances, each area of need would require 100% of a school counselor’s time, but that is not possible given the urgency and serious challenges that students and families are facing. All of these students’ needs must be addressed. We cannot possibly recover from the damage this pandemic has inflicted without a thoughtfully designed plan to revise our comprehensive advising structures and policies.
Students and parents need responsive and informed guidance that is adaptable to the daily disruptions and competing challenges from this pandemic. They need College Counseling Now.
College Counseling Now Campaign
The College Counseling Now campaign will address the four intersecting pandemics and more specifically, respond to what many are referring to as COVID-19 melt, where academically-qualified students are choosing not to attend or return to college. We will look at nontraditional pathways that connect students to real opportunities for high-wage, high demand jobs.
Recognizing that there are many people who work towards helping students navigate their post high school options, the #CollegeCounselingNow campaign will engage and bring together all partners (students, parents, guardians, K-12 educators, higher ed. partners, community based organizations, school counselors, graduate students, counselor educators and researchers) to respond to the clarion call for creative, decisive, and equity focused solutions.
Associate Professor, Educational Leadership & Higher Education, Boston College
When my daughter was 14, I asked her whether she thought she might like to go to college at the university where I taught. She had been to my campus countless times by then, most often to the School of Education where my office and classrooms were located. My daughter answered that she wouldn’t choose to attend my college because it was too small. With some surprise, I told her that we had 14,000 enrolled students. Her reply: “How do they fit them in that building?”
I was taken aback that my daughter hadn’t realized that the entire campus was part of the university. I’d never really told her exactly what a university was, though. I guess I thought that she –that anyone—would just know that.
So imagine the assumptions and misperceptions of high school students who do not grow up visiting college campuses with their professor parent. Indeed, in my role as a researcher of college access, I have come across innumerable instances of similar disconnects between what we educators assume students know and what they actually know:
“I’m not interested in liberal arts. I’m not liberal and I don’t want to study art!”
“What is a passing score on the SAT?”
“I don’t know what I want for my career, so I can’t start college yet.”
“This college costs $60,000—there is no way I can afford that!”
“The FAFSA gets you scholarships, right?”
Why in the world should we expect a 16- or 17-year-old to know unwritten yet crucial terms and concepts like the definition of liberal arts, the difference between sticker price and cost, or the components of financial aid? How would they know why it might matter that institutions are public, private, for-profit, in-state, or out-of-state? And what does it mean for college counseling to stop assuming such common understandings?
It means that we need to communicate and unpack basic information about higher education and about every other aspect of the college choice, application, and financial aid process. We need to “pressure test” students’ understanding of this information. It means avoiding the term “financial aid” until and unless we’re sure students understand that assistance in paying for college comes from a combination of family contribution, grants, loans, work, and scholarships and what each of these represents. Above all, it means checking ourselves for what we assume “everyone” knows.
Doctoral Student, Educational Leadership & Higher Education, Boston College
2020 brought both new challenges and shed light on the same problems we’ve experienced in the field of college counseling for years.
In “normal” times, we, school and college counselors, often use variations of the same college application checklist with our students. The usual items are on there: (re)take the SATs or ACTs, finalize college lists, discuss options with family, write a personal statement, visit colleges, complete the Common Application, request fee waivers, submit the FAFSA, and the list goes on. The format of the checklist itself implies that the college process is linear–a neat laundry list of discrete tasks that we can help students check off, in order, one by one. We give presentations based on where students “should” be on the college timeline. Yet, as many of us experience, especially now as we navigate through the challenges of COVID-19, counseling students through the college process is far from simple or perfectly chronological. Students are at different places, at different times, at every juncture. Part of the problem is that we only have the capacity to do so much given the resources we have and the systems we operate within. And, part of the problem is that the tools we use follow an overly simplified checklist approach that does not work for all counselors, families, or students and certainly does not work in the context of 2020. So, how can we start college counseling off the timeline?
Based on a nationwide text-message college advising campaign for 35,000 students, a team of practitioners and researchers from K-12 and higher education began to identify the parts of the college application process that do not occur once, but continue to emerge and re-emerge. We realized that we needed a more realistic and dynamic representation of the college process. To that end, we arecreating and evolving an interactive “timeline” that captures the non-linear messiness of the college counseling process. As we hear from counselors, students, and parents about their concerns and challenges during this unprecedented year, we will update this new “timeline” in part 2 of this blog post to help counselors reimagine when and how they provide information and support to their students. Stay tuned and send us your ideas and feedback!
Executive Director, Center for Equity and Postsecondary Attainment, San Diego State University
Billions of dollars have been spent and countless efforts employed to close college opportunity gaps and while we have witnessed encouraging trends to provide more equitable access, the pandemic is rolling back the clock, wiping out many of the gains that have been made and exposing the systemic educational failures that got us here in the first place. We can sit back and watch the process unfold or we can acknowledge our mistakes and devote our energy to create a new equity centered, antiracist advising and counseling system that more intentionally serves all students.
Current Enrollment Trends
A recent report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center confirms startling college enrollment declines. While high school graduation rates remained stable for the class of 2020, postsecondary enrollment decreased by 21.7 percent nationally and direct high school to college attendance for students from high poverty schools fell by 32.6 percent versus 16.4 percent for low poverty schools. Students attending high minority schools saw attendance decrease by 26.4 percent, while those enrolled in low minority schools witnessed an 18 percent decline. If that news were not alarming enough, early indicators predict a continued downward enrollment trajectory with even more discernible losses ahead. Common App recently shared college application rates are down by 8 percent for first time applicants and applications from students who are first in their family to attend college and those utilizing fee waivers decreased by 16 percent.
The Challenge Before Us
The events of this past year have only added to the complexities that students face in traversing their educational path, one that has long been riddled with roadblocks and obstacles. While school leaders have worked heroically to respond to the challenges brought on by the novel Covid-19 pandemic, college advising has unsurprisingly taken a back seat due to the many urgent and pressing needs that school staff have been juggling. This has forced students to wait patiently for guidance as shifting deadlines and polices have become the actuality.
Parents have agonized over how to best help their child carve out a viable post high school plan. One friend recently shared that he didn’t want to pay college tuition for his daughter to be two doors down, sitting on her bed and taking classes on her computer all day. Another wished her son could experience all that college has to offer, including living on campus; so, ultimately, he decided to take a gap year. Other families made decisions to move forward as planned and students enrolled and completed their first semester of college, albeit not as they had expected.
Students and parents are frustrated and stymied by a quickly changing landscape coupled with misinformation. They are looking to school counselors and college advisors for responsive and informed postsecondary guidance that is malleable to the daily disruptions and competing demands – they need College Counseling Now.
College Counseling Now Campaign
The College Counseling Now campaign will elevate and broadcast what is working. We will identify the mechanisms that influence postsecondary opportunity and expose how each piece, no matter how seemingly big or small, impacts everything else around it.
As the saying goes, “it takes a village”. The College Counseling Now campaign will bring together students, parents, guardians, K-12 educators, higher education partners, community-based organizations, school counselors, district school counseling directors/supervisors, graduate students, counselor educators and researchers to create a community of practice committed to strengthening postsecondary advising. Together we will respond to the clarion call for creative, decisive, and equity focused college counseling solutions.
Elevate the voices of parents and students
Identify counseling and advising practices that support equity, antiracism and justice
Share lessons learned from summer melt advising interventions
Work with higher ed, K-12, community partners and college access organizations to thought partner and brainstorm solutions.
Develop college advising tools, resources, and training
Utilize social media and virtual spaces to hold Twitter chats, conduct Facebook Live events, share Instagram infographics, publish blog posts, and host webinars
Stay tuned for more information to get involved in the #CollegeCounselingNow campaign. We can do this together!