By Riley Quigley
High school graduation rates in America are still lagging behind many other similarly developed nations. Many educators across America are trying to find a solution to this, increasing or decreasing amounts of homework, introducing new technology to the classroom, or changing the overall curriculum of their school.
However, the solution might not be that simple. To solve America’s dropout problem, we must first solve America’s mental health problems. To do so, we need more guidance counselors in the classroom.
Dezaree Doroliat, a school counselor at Nea Community Learning Center in Alameda, says that we need more counselors. “I think California’s current ratio of counselors to learners is around 1- 800. It’s a lot to handle.”
Currently, California has the fourth highest guidance counselor to student ratio, with 663 students to every one counselor. This trails behind Arizona, Michigan, and Illinois, which have ratios of 905 to 1, 741 to 1, and 686 to 1 respectively. At least 10 states have ratios above the national average of 455 students to 1 counselor (Arizona, Michigan, Illinois, California, Minnesota, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Indiana).
These guidance counselors are incredibly important to help students stay in school. Ms. Doroliat says that most students who don’t graduate do so as a result of mental health issues. “If you want to look for a unifying theme, mental health due to trauma would be my biggest summarizing statement.” As Nea’s high school counselor, it is her job to make sure they overcome those roadblocks.
Nea has a graduation rate that hovers around 99%. Their counselor to student rate is around 1 to 250. When the guidance counselors can spend more time with each student, it helps those students get help. When you have 1 counselor to 600 students, it can be harder to do that.
Additionally, guidance counselors need to be able to build their curriculum around the students. Doroliat says, “At many schools you are told how and when to help people. Instead, at Nea we’ve created a curriculum that allows me to spend almost all my time with the kids. If I’m at school, my job should be to help those kids.”
Summit Public Schools has tried to counter the lack of guidance counselors by training mentors, or teachers who are given minimal training to perform the role of a guidance counselor to a group of around twenty students. Summit Public Schools: Denali does not have a guidance counselor on campus.
The problem with this is simple: A physics or algebra teacher has not been trained to handle the emotional needs of a teenager. To become a school counselor, candidates will “most likely be required to earn at least a master’s degree in school counseling or education psychology.” Even though the mentor may be given minimal training, it still cannot compare to the amount of training most counselors go through.
Elizabeth Salim, a freshman at Summit Denali, doesn’t think that the mentorship program fulfills the needs of the students. She says, “Guidance counselors are trained to see from different angles than a teacher would. They would ask what’s going on that prevents you from learning rather than purely addressing academics.”
Guidance counselors provide oversight during a pivotal turning point in a teenager’s life. Many teens are unprepared to handle both academic and emotional turmoil and rely on those trained professionals for help. It is of the utmost importance that these counselors are both numerous and skilled.
FEATURED IMAGE (at top of post): Graph of high school graduation rates. PHOTO CREDIT: Wiki Media