Should I still apply to college? Is college still worth it? How can I even think about applying to college with everything else that is going on in my life? This pandemic has made everything more challenging than it already was.
These are common questions that many seniors and adults are asking themselves. Many students may be wondering about the next step in their education given the uncertainty of the past few years. High school seniors have had to do many things differently since the spring of their sophomore year. Some are still virtual while others may be in-person with the possibility of suddenly being sent home to quarantine lingering over their heads. Sporting events and other afterschool activities may be limited or canceled due to COVID-19 outbreaks or staff shortages. It also continues to be challenging hanging out with friends when there are still limitations for large group gatherings without masks.
I want students to know that college is still an option! Students with some training after high school—whether that’s a year of training for a professional certificate or four years of college—earn more, learn more, and tend to be more active in life. This isn’t just another couple of years of school. It is the difference between thriving and simply surviving in life. The difference between living check-to-check and barely making ends meet and thriving in a career field that aligns to your passions and having the financial means to save for the future.
September 17th was #WhyApply (to college) day, a day where school counselors and staff, state leaders, and community members came together on social media to remind students why they should apply to college. #WhyApply is sponsored by the American College Application Campaign (ACAC), an initiative of ACT’s Center for Equity in Learning, which partners with thousands of high schools across the country each fall to host events supporting students through the college application process, especially first-generation college students and those from low-income families who may not otherwise apply to college. This year we anticipate nearly 6,000 high schools will host application completion events between September and December.
Many students are seeking individualized support and assistance as they prepare for life after high school. And while it is important to keep a strong focus on the Class of 2022, we must also support those who most recently graduated from high school. That’s why San Diego State University Center for Equity and Postsecondary Attainment (CEPA) and ACAC are coming together to address the college enrollment crisis. Through the COVID-19 Enrollment and Persistence Strategy Grant, funded by The Kresge Foundation, ACAC and CEPA aim to create a K12/higher education bridge focused on unpacking advising and counseling practices that best support recent high school graduates. You can learn more about these resources by visiting https://education.sdsu.edu/cepa.
College is still a viable option and the ability to pursue a more stable future is within reach! Having hopes and dreams of attending college is the first step and applying is the next step! Do not let this opportunity slip by your students! School counselors play a critical role to ensure students have everything that is needed to pursue their dreams and get that college degree!
The COVID-19 pandemic and the way it has upended society might dissuade some in pursuing higher education, but don’t be fooled. Do not let your students miss out on the opportunity to have a passionate career and make more money! Help students apply to college today!
Ashley Johnson is a program officer at The Kresge Foundation supporting the work of the Education Program. Prior to joining the foundation, she served as the Executive Director of the Detroit Promise program and remains passionate in the pursuit of ensuring every student has an opportunity to achieve a postsecondary degree regardless of their financial situation.
Over the last couple of weeks I have experienced some very proud and exciting moments. As I scrolled through my social media page I saw so many of my former students graduating from college. It was exciting because they were all students from my first class as a counselor at University Prep Art & Design. For the past six years I have had the pleasure of supporting the graduating classes at UPAD with developing plans to help them reach their postsecondary goals. As a college coordinator I have the distinct role of navigating students through the complicated process of filling out college applications, financial aid, scholarships, housing applications and much more. Above all however, I believe my biggest responsibility in this role is to help students believe that they can reach their dreams. It is an honor, and is more than a job to me, it’s my passion.
As I draw close to the end of my sixth year in this role I reflect back to my first year as a college coordinator. I had the goal of being a hero who would come in and save students by getting them out the hood and into college. I had my checklist of items that I needed each student to do:
College Acceptance Letter: CHECK ✅
FASFA Completed: CHECK ✅
Scholarship: CHECK ✅
Choosing your college and orientation date: CHECK ✅
It was near the end of my very first year… I was going through my checklist with each student, and came across a student who hadn’t made his official college decision. This was weird to me because we had met several times and decided on a school that matched perfectly to his needs both academically and financially. I angrily called him to my office so that we could discuss his procrastination. I had an entire speech in my head of what I would say to him “YOU ARE GOING TO MISS OUT ON THIS OPPORTUNITY!” “YOU HAVE TO DO BETTER!” and my all time favorite “YOU CAN’T APPROACH THE REAL WORLD LIKE THIS!” When the student walked into my office I wasted no time in questioning him. “WHY HAVEN’T YOU PAID YOUR DEPOSIT AND SIGNED UP FOR ORIENTATION?!” The student looked at me as if he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. He paused and said, “Mr. Johnson, I… AM… SCARED”. My anger instantly turned into disappointment. Not toward him but disappointment toward myself. In my attempt to be a hero, I never took the time to listen to what he may be going through. In our many meetings over the years, he always came across as confident and sure of himself but today, he was a student who needed someone to listen and validate him.
He talked and I listened for over two hours and he shared with me that he was the first in his family to go to college, and that he was afraid that he would let his family down if he didn’t make it to graduation, and that he had never been away from home. The part that broke my heart is when he told me, “I don’t know if I am good enough.” My instant reply was, “What if you are good enough, and what if you do make it.” He responded with, “I never looked at it that way.” As we finished our discussion, we signed him up for orientation and I gave him a hug and assured him that he would be alright.
That conversation was transformational for me because it made me change my entire approach to this work. In the words of Tina Turner “We don’t need another HERO” (I just aged myself ). Our students needed someone who could relate, support and validate their experience.
CRE and College Counseling
Often when we think about Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) we do so in relation to students’ experience in the classroom. There is not enough conversation surrounding CRE in counseling practices. I can make a case that CRE is just as important when counseling students. Our students grow up in a world that tells them:
Because they are black, their lives don’t matter
Because they are from Detroit, they are less than
Because they come from low and working class backgrounds, they can’t achieve.
When we incorporate CRE into our counseling practice we begin to create counternarratives to the aforementioned views. I suggest a more culturally responsive approach to college counseling and access, that refrains from a deficit viewpoint, and considers the contextual needs, cultural knowledge and assets our students embody to realize their college aspirations and career goals. Too often when we measure college readiness we do so based on White middle class students as the dominant measure for academic and personal standards to determine if a student can succeed in their pursuit of college and life. However, our students have gained a specific set of skills and resilience that has allowed them to survive and thrive in Detroit when it was at its worst. That same resilience can be translated to their success in college and beyond. Dr. Shaun R. Harper Provost Professor in the Rossier School of Education and Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California discusses this in his presentation “This too is Racist” When we devalue the experience and capabilities of Black students, we are committing to racist behaviors. To overcome this we have to begin telling our students that their lived cultural experience matters and is valued. In addition, we also have to help our students unpack the cultural experiences they have and translate it into tools to help them reach their personal and professional goals.
Taking a New Approach
I decided to transform the approach I would take as a counselor and take a more culturally responsive approach. I had to move away from being a hero and take on more of a restorative approach. I remember Dr. Chris Emdin calls it “ Restoration over Rescue Mission”. With that in mind I decided to approach this in three different ways.
Listen: Often our students are told to be “seen and not heard”. I have to create more opportunities for students to express their fears, concerns and experiences. We can’t help students until we understand them; we can’t understand them till we listen to them.
Student-Centered: Move away from my own personal objectives when meeting with students. Allow them the opportunity to discuss their needs, goals and plans and respond and support appropriately. Remember that each student is different and requires a unique approach. Instead of looking at their experiences as setbacks and deficiencies we must help them understand those experiences are tools that have helped them grow personally and professionally. Help them translate how those experiences can lead to their success in college, career and beyond.
Empower: Students should walk away from counseling and coaching sessions empowered to reach their goals. Many students are victims of oppression and racism and may need motivation to move forward. Before students leave high school and transition into the next stage of their life, they should have a positive self appraisal of themself (self actualization). They should believe in themselves and know that they can achieve any goal they set for themselves, despite the obstacles and experience of their past.
Love: Our students deserve to be loved. I charge every educator to move away from robotic interactions with student and instead approach students with love and their well-being
What CRE Means to Me
The thing that I had to learn as a counselor is that I had to meet the needs of the students and not my own objective. Access to a college education is not enough. TOO many of my students feel that they won’t make it in college because they feel they are not good enough or because they feel they don’t deserve it. As educators we have to provide students with the tools and self assurance to deal with the pain of fundamentally being disempowered and oppressed. When we liberate students through education we create students that transform and not conform. But we must be careful in our approach, because education in the past (in some cases currently) has been used as a tool to oppress communities of color. This is why providing students with a culturally relevant education is paramount. By infusing CRE we are able to create conscious and self-empowered individuals who use their educated voice for themselves and their community. They use that educated mind to disrupt and dismantle systems of oppression and inequities to create a better world for us all.
As I was scrolling through my social media and seeing each of my former students in their college cap and gowns I ran across the student who I mentioned earlier. There he stood with his Cap and Gown on and a caption that said “I DID IT” I enthusiastically sent him a message that said “Congratulations Bro, I’m proud of you. If you need anything, call me.” Within an hour my phone rang and it was him. He said “I don’t need anything. I just had to say thank you for everything, it was a hard journey, but I did it!” With a huge smile I simply replied, “it was my pleasure brotha!”
John Johnson is the Director of Postsecondary & Alumni Affairs at University Prep Schools. He has over 12 years of experience helping students to and through college working at both the high school and collegiate levels. He is a graduate of Michigan State University where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communications. He also has a Masters Degree in Education & Training. He is a 2020 Detroit New Leader Council Fellow and currently a 2021 San Diego State University Equity in College Counseling Fellow. In 2020 he was awarded the Influential Educator Award by the Michigan Chronicle, and most recently the 2021 Fred Martin/Coleman A. Young Educator of the Year.
Though I do not have “school counselor” as my title, I have had the privilege of being able to collaborate in a variety of professional development opportunities with those who do. Regardless of official titles, the concerns, struggles, and genuine care for students and how to get them through this year moving forward academically and with mental health intact were shared by all.
This pandemic, in which emotional health issues have soared and access to students has plummeted, has taken a toll on the caring professionals already overloaded with large caseloads and evolving job descriptions pre-Covid. When successfully getting stressed students — and ourselves — through a semester is at the forefront, effective postsecondary advising seems like a lofty and long-term goal.
Yet, the statistics are clear. There is continuous work to be done so that all students have access to timely and relevant post-secondary information and opportunities. Without this work, it will be difficult to get out of this hole a worldwide virus has collectively pushed us in.
Overworked counselors, if you had access to a free resource that would help you reach more students, work more efficiently, and allow more focus of your time and energy where it is needed the most, would you be interested?
As someone who walks along the outskirts of the profession but with the very same concerns for today’s students, I would like to suggest a paradigm shift concerning a far underutilized resource: parents.
The burden of responsibility to provide information and postsecondary guidance to students felt by school counselors is obvious. You desire to be able to give more time, more of yourself. How, I ask, is this even possible with the national average of 479:1 student-to-counselor ratio?
One supportive parent can bring that ratio to 1:1.
While I recognize not every student comes from a household with a supportive parent or parents, many do. Every time the words “my student” are used by a counselor, there are usually two additional adults using the words “my child.”
What is lacking is not a parental desire or ability to support, but knowledge and awareness. How can school counselors better equip and empower parents to guide their children in post-secondary planning?
Here are three steps to thinking about the role of parents in a new way.
Step 1: View Parents as Partners
Are you viewing parents as true partners in the process of guiding students through post-secondary planning? Or, are you seeing parents as “tools” to help you guide students through the process? Partners work alongside, collaborating with distinct knowledge and talents, toward a common goal. Tools provide things so that someone else can accomplish a task. Evaluate your perspective of parental roles and adjust them if needed.
Step 2: Provide Parent-Focused and Accessible Information
Students should take ownership of their postsecondary path, and parents should be invested in the process alongside them. Your role, as a counselor, is to share the various paths, including possible obstacles, and opportunities that correlate with the student’s goals. Consider yourself the travel agent while the parent is the tour guide. Both assist the student needing guidance. One shares information and options while the other walks alongside. The experience of the trip is for the student.
Encourage parents to engage in the process with their students through the way you share and present information. Create lesson plans and guidance for parents to work through with their students rather than have all info directed to just the student. For example, provide workshops that give parents the skillset to help their child think through the process rather than give them checklists of what their student should have “done” by a certain date.
Step 3: Show Students and Parents How to Crowdsource
Guiding a student through college applications, options, and decisions almost seems akin to being a parent for the first time. Sometimes parents just need to share ideas, discuss with others in the same place, and learn from each other. Popular FB groups such as the 100K member Paying for College 101 give parents the resource of each other rather than the efforts of a single school counselor. Showing parents where they can seek out readily available information and support each other will free up your limited minutes with a student to address more specific postsecondary questions or in other needed areas, such as mental health.
The above may seem like logical and simple steps of role definition, information, and support, perhaps even ones you believe you are already doing. As an outsider looking in, I can tell you that is not what I’m hearing during conversations among school counselors. I hear weariness and desperation in attempts to get information and action from students single-handedly while leaving parents, who care for their child more than anyone, on the bench waiting to be told what to do. Parents, who do not understand the postsecondary planning process, have looked to school counselors to take the lead in the process, and school counselors have assumed responsibility for this work beyond what they can provide. Instead, treat parents as counselors-in-training and equip them to guide their students and share their knowledge with others. Parents need a coach and to be invited as an active part of the team.
If you are instead sending signals that “my student” comes with more ownership and responsibility for guidance than “my child,” not only do you have it wrong, in a 479:1 world, it isn’t even possible.
While continued training of dedicated school counselors in postsecondary advising is critical in increasing college access and postsecondary certificate and degree attainment, when paired with a paradigm shift on the role of parent, we can hit it out of the park.
Heidi Pair is the Assistant Director at Renaissance Academy, a K-12 hybrid program for homeschooled and non-traditional full-time students. In addition to her role and work with students at Renaissance Academy, Heidi assists parents in the college process through teaching workshops and private consulting. She is a current member of Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) and Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling (MACAC).
School Counselor & Teacher at Flint Southwestern Classical Academy
Our children are falling behind in their academic career to the extent that they will not graduate in four years of high school. Students do not attend class every day, do not turn in assignments, and are not always honest with their parents and teachers. It can be seen as an exacerbation of the inequities in our education system and this trend needs to be addressed and curbed before a successful post-secondary career can begin.
Students and parents need to know what life is like outside of their world. It has been a challenge because many of our older students have taken on responsibilities in their home. We have students that have secured employment that often requires them to work during the school day. Other students have become the primary caregiver for their younger siblings in order for the elementary children to be successful in online school while the parents are working. We need to provide opportunities for parents and students to visit areas outside of our city in order to develop a sense of building a life on their own.
Students need to be made aware of academic requirements of certain careers. As a secondary school counselor in an urban district in Michigan, I try to reach students on a daily basis to be sure they stay on track to graduate. I am confronted with a schedule conflict, internet access issues, faulty equipment issues, and basic connectivity issues. We continue to “forgive” these issues and do not hold the students accountable. Our direct contact hours for class only allows 30 minutes for the teacher to help the student. This does not take into account the time it takes for students to access the class and greet their classmates and teacher. In order to pursue a college education and eventually a career, students need to be accountable for their own progress.
Students/parents need to know what is available as far as funding. Our students are afforded many opportunities to pay for a college education. We need to meet parents and families where they are at – neighborhood churches, parks, or schools – so they can hear about college costs, the income potential of college graduates, and the scholarships available. In urban areas parents are focused on survival and don’t always have the opportunity to look to the future. Anything that comes with extra effort is not always attainable because of sheer lack of strength and time. Parents need to know what can be achieved without causing them extra work so they can help encourage their children to strive to be successful.
One of the things that this Covid-19 pandemic has brought to light is the fact that we are not all equal. That is especially obvious when we look at our high school students. We don’t all receive information the same way, we don’t process information the same way, we have different family obligations, we have different priorities all because we are different. We need to acknowledge these differences and address them so that our students can achieve their full potential. “It takes a village” and we all must be active participants.
She grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and earned her Bachelor’s degree at Northern Michigan University in Physical Education and Health. Her teaching career spans more that 30 years in a variety of settings from juvenile detention to a private boarding school. She also enjoys people and customer service and had worked at a professional sports and concert venue for nearly 20 years. Making people feel good about themselves and each other is her life’s mission.
Open up an internet browser and type “What is the purpose of high school?” into the search engine. The results vary, but at the core the message is to prepare for post-high school life. This can encompass career, vocational or college preparation. Too often this preparation is siloed in schools, leaving career and college preparation to the school counseling department. This is problematic. When post-high school life conversations are left to one department or a few individuals, students lose. I remember wondering why I would need to learn how to diagram a sentence when I was in high school, I liked science. Post-high school life taught me that I needed to be able to communicate in writing. When we silo this preparation, students are left to wonder, “why do I need to know this?” I propose a different way of proceeding with college and career preparation, which involves partnerships to close the opportunity gap for all of our students, regardless of the school they attend.
School counselors are trained to help a student navigate the coursework, extra-curricular experiences and the flow of high school. They help students develop goals, learn self-advocacy and help students create a high school plan that supports their dreams. School counselors are trained to help students navigate roadblocks in their high school journey.
Classroom teachers see their students almost daily and are in a position to help link classroom work to life beyond high school. As content experts, they can serve as a bridge between classroom work and subject with life after high school.
I am a dreamer. I envision an educational world where, in every class a student takes, there is a small unit on “What careers are available to you if you like X?” Not just focusing on college majors, but looking at careers. A follow-up to this question is having students explore and share out a career they find interesting that would utilize the classroom content. Leave the method of share-out open, which allows the students to gain insight into their preferred communication style. This simple activity holds power in the life of a student. It helps them link their school experience to the next phase of life. It helps them explore beyond the world they know. It helps them develop their research and communication skills, which are valuable to future employers.
Counselors can support this work as they course-plan with their students, talk about post-high school options and as they help students develop a path to their next phase of life. Creating a building wide approach to career exploration benefits our next generation work-force and helps to close the opportunity gap.
Holly M. Markiecki-Bennetts
A past-president of the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling. Also, currently serves as the Affiliate President Council Coordinator for NACAC.
She has a BS from Alma College, a MSEd in Higher Education Student Affairs Administration from Indiana University, a MS in School Counseling, and a Post-Grad Certificate in Mental Health Counseling from Capella University. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, a Licensed School Counselor in Michigan, and a National Certified Counselor through NBCC.
As the world commemorated the graduating class of 2020, albeit, in untraditional ways, the Class of 2021 held their breaths in hopes of reduced COVID cases, lifted constraints, and a typical school year. However, they would soon find themselves echoing the sighs and disappointments shared by their predecessors, with the loss of significant milestones, online learning, once again, from the comforts of their beds, and faced with decisions that no longer appeared to make sense. As a nation, we have continued to watch attendance rates fall, the high school to college pipeline waning, minority students often left to navigate the channel themselves while trying to make sense of the world around them, and unwavering numbers of mental health concerns. In a sense, we are watching our children become a shell of who they once were as they try to adjust and decide what’s next.
In the midst of all of the chaos, there are extraordinary educators, admin, and counselors working day and night to fill in the missing pieces and best support students and families, often working late into the evening or taking weekend Zoom meetings. They say it takes a village, and our villages have never been more populated.
It seems everyone is scrambling to find the “what’s next “… how can we help these families? How can we help our students to find success? How can we navigate post-secondary opportunities when our students are disengaged or uninformed? What our students and families require– what our educators need– is a little grace.
What does the word grace imply? By the most straightforward definition, grace is unmerited kindness or unconditional respect. Of course, my work’s importance is not negotiable; counseling/advising is a need that our future depends on, but I think it’s time, at least for now, to not hold on to those numbers and statistics so tightly and search out the bigger picture. There is a lot of work to be done, and in a sense, we are starting back at ground zero, but in these moments of uncertainty and, in some cases, disappointment, we learn, grow, and thrive.
We need to find grace for the student who has picked up extra shifts at work to help feed his siblings, for the Senior that despite all of the guidance and pushing and cheering, still doesn’t know where he wants to go to school because his depression keeps him prisoner to his bed, for the students who are tuning in daily, but turning in late work because once the camera is off, they are off to tutor their siblings. We need to find grace for the educators who are hitting a wall and questioning their role in education, for the admin teams working tirelessly to fix everything at once, to the counselors who are trying and trying hard, but this year, the distance is creating a defense. Finally, we need to find grace for the parents who are suddenly working from home and struggling to be present with their children and for those children who don’t feel seen or heard.
This year, like last, is tough, and as a nation, we are suffering. Perhaps test scores may not look as they once did; FAFSA Completion rates may have dropped; decision day celebrations may feature some confused faces who are going through the motions, but that has to be okay. We need to teach and prepare our children like we always have, but this year we needed to bring in the social-emotional aspect and to tend to our children… to be their voice, their shoulders, teachers, parental figures, therapists, and most prominent advocate. This year, we needed to teach and counsel with grace, and we have to embrace the data.
Grace, loosely defined by these unprecedented times, may look like us, as educators/counselors up late studying what is working for other schools, bouncing ideas off of our peers at weird hours, opening late office hours to accommodate families, accepting late work, spending hours with one student navigating the high school to college pipeline, working endlessly to help our students not only find success but healing.
In these unprecedented times, grace has to look like health and goodwill, and that alone should be celebrated. Perhaps none of us know “what’s next,” and like the person next to us, we are doing the best that we can. Maybe this year’s data looks like the lives we’ve saved, the voices we encouraged, and the time we’ve given to heal and to decide and to dream and to plan.
All we need is… grace.
Lucy Becker Harmon
Momma to three with two bonus babes and two fur babies; Academic Dean and lifelong learner. Advocate for change.
After spending 11 years in a 12th grade English classroom, Lucy decided to make the leap to Academic Dean, where she focuses on supporting and educating students on their what’s next. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Secondary Education from Siena Heights University and her Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Concordia University, Portland. Lucy also holds K-12 Administrative Certificate received from Concordia University, Ann Arbor.
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.
Doctoral Student, Educational Leadership & Higher Education, Boston College
The transition to college is fraught with challenges, particularly for students who have been underrepresented and marginalized in higher education. Far too many students who plan to attend college do not matriculate or do not persist. Lack of support or knowledge, problems with financial aid, and insufficient academic preparation could all contribute to this summer melt phenomenon. College transition and support programs, however, can potentially mitigate some of these issues during a pandemic that has severely affected postsecondary enrollment for students attending high minority and high poverty schools.
There are a wide range of transition and support programs. Some are mandatory while others are optional. Some programs are free and some are not. They exist at two-year and four-year colleges, can be of varying lengths and intensity, can serve specific student populations, and can have different goals. Of these, summer bridge programs in particular have gained momentum and have the potential to address issues related to summer and COVID melt. Held during the summer before a student’s first year of college, summer bridge programs support students in their transition from high school to college. They provide the opportunity for students to explore available resources at their college, acclimate to their new environment, form relationships with peers, faculty, and staff, develop self-efficacy, and build essential academic skills.
High school counselors can and should discuss these programs with their students when guiding them through the college selection process. On the other side of the desk, higher education professionals can and should reach out to, and build relationships with students and high school counselors to encourage participation. In 2020, many summer bridge programs moved online during the COVID-19 pandemic, making them potentially more accessible to students.
While there does not appear to be a comprehensive list of summer bridge programs in the United States, students can use the following search phrases to find out if the colleges they are interested in or have been accepted to have a program that fits their needs and interests as they transition to college.
“Summer bridge program” and “(insert college name)”
“Transition program” and “(insert college name)”
“Summer transition program” and “(insert college name)”
Or, many public school systems have a web page dedicated to college transition programs offered across their campuses
For students who have attended a summer bridge program, particularly during the summer of 2020, what was your experience like? For those who run summer bridge programs, what did you learn when adapting them to a virtual format? What advice do you have for other institutions running programs this summer? College Counseling Now would love to hear more about your perspectives and experiences!
“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.
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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.