Guidance Counselors are Champions for Their Students
Jan 04, 2016 03:34PM ● Published by Bryan Scott
By Aimee L. Cook
West Valley - Guidance counselors are charged with advocating for students and their needs. Whether it is an educational issue or a medical need that needs to be addressed during a school day, these dedicated folks help guide the young towards their futures. Sound like a daunting task? It is.
Laney Long is a counselor at Granger High School. Currently there are 3,044 students attending Granger. Nine counselors are on staff, and the students are divided up by last name. Typically, each counselor has a caseload of almost 400 students.
In addition to a large student body, the diversity of students is also challenging. There are 577 English language learners, 347 special education students and 150 medical unit students, which is a student who needs a 504 plan for medical reasons.
“We try and do what is right for the student,” Long said. “For instance, if they have a conflict with a teacher, we intervene and advocate for the student with the teacher, but we still have to support the teacher, so it is a fine line.”
Laural Takashima is also a guidance counselor at Granger. She has dealt with many students who need 504 plans to assist with medical needs, in addition to the student’s educational needs.
“We have to see that the needs of the student is met, and what we need to do to accommodate them in class so they are successful,” Takashima said. “For example, if they need to use the restroom frequently, we need to communicate to the teacher and let them know. This can also require us to be on a 504 team if their condition effects their learning or their school work, so that we can help come up with additional accommodations.”
In addition to the ethnic diversity, cultural diversity and language barriers, poverty is also an issue at Granger, adding yet another challenge and having a big impact on the counselors’ jobs. Granger is a Title 1 school, which means that a percentage of the population is low income, and many students qualify for reduced or free lunch.
If students are hungry, they have a difficult time focusing, so Long spearheaded opening a food pantry at the school a year ago that typically supplies food to over 250 people every month.
“We get donations from the community, food drives and from the Utah Food Bank,” Long said. “Everyone in our community can get food from our pantry, not just our students.”
The counselors are also required to be on two committees as a faculty member in a school, in addition to handling their caseloads. There seems to be a misconception that guidance counselors can and should take on even more.
“For example, the legislature will suggest that there be suicide trainings for all the teachers, and offer to have the guidance counselors do it,” Long said. “None of those jobs are difficult jobs and we don’t mind doing them, but everything piles up and we get spread really thin. I would prefer to focus on my students.”
Some students do fall through the cracks. It’s inevitable with such a large population. However, the success stories far outweigh those. There are numerous success stories about students who beat the odds and graduated from Granger and even went on to college.
Many of the students at Granger are first generation high school graduates. These students have a difficult time navigating the American school system. The counselors step in and help them understand what they need to do to get through high school and to be successful.
“We had a refugee student who moved here from Africa that graduated last year,” Uote Havea, a guidance counselor at Granger, said. “He stayed with a foster family, tried to adjust to the whole American life and he only spoke a few English words. But one of the first things he said was he wanted to graduate from high school and get a diploma. It meant so much to him and his family. We had to put him back a grade to be a junior, because he was short on credits and was barely speaking any English. We, as a team, came up with this plan after realizing that would be best for him. After the move back, we saw him excel. The drive in him to be successful and get his diploma was amazing. I had a completely different type of conversation with him, explaining credits to him in terms of apples, and quarters, because he did not understand what credits meant. During his senior year he became a wrestler and even a dancer. He became a completely different student than the student I met at first. Last we heard he was attending Salt Lake Community College.”