Susan Beard: College not counselors’ only focus

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 18, 2015

By Susan Wright Beard

Special to the Salisbury Post

I was appalled at the ignorance espoused recently by several leaders in the field of education, and I honestly wonder from whom they get their information. First of all, to use the term “guidance counselor” is outdated. The appropriate term is school counselor, hence the N.C. School Counselor Association.

The most frustrating comments imply that counselors want everyone “to go to Duke.” Understanding clearly that Dr. Carol Spaulding does not literally mean Duke University but that it represents four-year colleges in general, it is clear to me that she has not recently spent a lot of time in a high school counselor’s office, if ever.

Having worked in two high schools for 19 of my 21 years at Rowan-Salisbury School System, I had the opportunity to interact with a wide variety of students with varying interests and abilities. I tried to respond to each of them appropriately and with encouragement to follow their dream. Many students planned to attend a community college to obtain a marketable skill, and I supported them in that plan. Others chose the military or going straight to work in another area. If I thought the student had a questionable plan, I might have asked some questions, but ultimately, it was the student’s decision.

There were of course the students who excelled academically who received encouragement and direction in how to prepare and apply for a four-year college. Those students took a lot of time because many of them did not know about the application process and often they were applying for financial aid or scholarships. But they were easy because their plans were appropriate for their abilities.

The last group I want to comment on are those students who have with the help of their parents planned and talked about going to a four-year college but who struggled a little academically. Was the four-year plan the best one for them? Sometimes it was because the student worked harder than many to fulfill that dream, and they were successful. For others it was not, but to suggest to a student with that dream that he or she was not capable of four-year college and that they should attend a community college only or first was an incredibly difficult task.

The question should always be raised if the student is prepared for and ready for the challenges of a four-year college, but it is not appropriate to tell them they are not unless it is fact based such as not having taken the college prep courses. And I don’t think it should be done just so statistics show more academic success in community colleges. If a student does not succeed at a four-year college, they can begin again at a community college. That can be difficult and painful, but it is a lesson learned by the student and his/her family rather than a school official making that decision for them.

Now we have to address the concept of “the lost years.” Have these experts ever been around teenagers? The variety of maturity levels vary from student to student, and yes, for some, there will be some lost years. It’s called growing up and maturing, and anyone with children knows that that takes time, more for some than for others.

With all this said, I will share that I worked with counselors from every high school in this county who always had the best interests of students first and foremost in their professional duties. And I am convinced that none of them thought every student should “go to Duke.” We as a group wanted what was best and appropriate for our students. Our society as a whole tends to over value the four-year degree and believe it is the American dream, but high school counselors in Rowan County recognize the needs and dreams of their students and work for them whatever their goals might be.

Susan Wright Beard is a retired high school counselor.