Help students find academic success and plan for the future

08/09/2011  |  Julie Hartline
Preparing Students for College
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Julie Hartline implemented a comprehensive counseling program that increased graduation rates and assisted students in planning their future.

When I graduated from college over 20 years ago with a double major in Latin and Psychology, I had no idea what career path to take. Realizing I wanted to make a difference, I took a job as a parole officer. From my picture, it is probably hard to imagine me carrying a badge and gun and walking through the projects of metropolitan Atlanta. My mother certainly had a hard time swallowing the idea, but I did just that in hopes of helping those on my case load change their lives.

A picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. was in my office because it represented a world without limits to me, and those who walked in my door were faced with many limits. They were stigmatized by society, and many times by their families and even themselves.
Within a comprehensive program, school counselors provide services to all students, not just the ones who find our offices. We have a systematic way of delivering our curriculum to every student in the school. As a high school counselor, one primary goal is to help every student to understand what it takes to be academically successful and to plan for the future.

They often did not see the possibility of change in their lives. In my two years as a parole officer, I recommended to the parole board that many people return to prison, but I also asked that some be released from parole. I have a memory of a large, husky, grown man with tears streaming down his face as he picked me up in an embrace when I handed him his release papers. >From that moment forward, his life was different, and I knew then that I wanted to make an even bigger difference.

Looking at my case load, I discovered that more than 85 percent had never graduated from high school. I wanted the difference I made to happen before people made such life-altering decisions. I knew I could be a proactive part of the solution rather than a reactive one so I became an educator. With an undergraduate major in Latin, I received a provisional certification due to a shortage of Latin teachers. Although I could not reach the type of student I wanted in this position, it got my foot in the door.

The key that opened the door to my now 20-year career in education was no coincidence, though. As a high school sophomore, my best friend talked me into taking Latin. As luck has it, my Latin teacher became one of my greatest influences. She told me I was not living up to my potential and she would accept nothing less than my being a straight A student. Because of her influence, many doors opened for me, and I am living proof of the difference an educator can make. I had an undergraduate degree that opened the door for me to get into education, not because of my love for Latin but because an educator who taught Latin made a difference in my life. Now that’s fate.

From my first year of teaching, I knew I wanted to become a school counselor. It took me a few years, though, to make that dream a reality, but I ultimately entered the field that has become my passion. After several years as a school counselor feeling frustrated by the many non-counseling assignments that kept me from interacting with students, I attended a workshop in 2005 on the ASCA National Model. I could make a difference for students only if I had access to them, and I learned how to make that happen. I returned to my school ready to build a comprehensive school counseling program.

Within a comprehensive program, school counselors provide services to all students, not just the ones who find our offices. We have a systematic way of delivering our curriculum to every student in the school. As a high school counselor, one primary goal is to help every student to understand what it takes to be academically successful and to plan for the future.

Within our program, we start in ninth grade by delivering classroom guidance lessons to freshmen on how to be successful in high school, how freshman year can impact future options, how to resolve conflict peacefully, and what it takes to graduate. They visit our career center so they will know where they can plan for the future and who can help with the process. What students do from the beginning of ninth grade until the time they graduate determines which doors are open for them. We help them understand the importance of doing well from day one.

In 10th grade, we focus on where students are with their graduation requirements and what they need to do as sophomores to prepare for the future. We take them to the computer lab to complete an interest inventory. They identify careers of interest and potential salaries and educational requirements for careers. We try to bridge the gap between what they are doing now and their futures, and we also provide an interpretation of their PSAT scores to assist in their future planning.

The school counselors deliver lessons to juniors about post-secondary options, discussing the specific steps needed for the various options. Students complete another career survey because interests change over time, and we meet with each student individually to discuss future plans. We talk about the steps taken and the steps needed to be taken. We talk about if the plans are realistic and if adjustments need to be made, and we provide a college/career fair during the school day so that they can talk to representatives from technical colleges, two-year colleges, four-year universities, the military and training programs.

In their senior English classes, our students are required to complete a college/career portfolio project that the counselors and teachers collaboratively created. Students visit our career center for an overview regarding finalizing post-secondary plans and then return for a work session to start the project, which is personalized for each student based on future plans. It requires those who are planning to attend college to submit completed college and financial aid applications as well as entrance exam scores. For those entering the military, ASVAB scores and information from recruiters must be submitted. Those who plan to go straight into the work force must build a resume and develop a budget on which to live. This project is the culmination of four years of planning for the future.

Throughout the entire process, our career center is a resource for students. Prior to the implementation of our comprehensive program five years ago, we only had 501 visits to our career center. This year, we had over 2,500 visits to the center. Students are planning for their futures and the school counselors are assisting in this process. As proud as we are of our career center numbers, though, the true impact is seen in the 18 percent increase in graduation rates since the implementation of our comprehensive program.

Building a comprehensive program is a three to five year process, and school counselors cannot do it alone. They must be given access to students so teachers must be willing to give up some of their classroom time for guidance and small group lessons as well as individual student appointments. Administrators must also protect the time of counselors so that they can spend the majority of time in direct service to students. The rewards of a comprehensive school counseling program are tremendous for the school but more importantly for the students.

As I sat at graduation last night, I watched 488 students who had benefitted from our comprehensive program cross the stage. I heard two students specifically mention the impact of the school counselors in their speeches. My heart swelled as I watched numerous students who had personally told me how meaningful our program and my involvement in their high school careers had been. Now that’s making a difference.

Julie Hartline is the lead school counselor at Campbell High School in Smyrna, GA. She was the 2009 American School Counselor Association School Counselor of the Year, and she will graduate with a doctorate in Professional Counseling and Supervision from the University of West Georgia in August 2011.
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