Anne Arundel schools counselors receive national recognition

Work begins as early as fourth grade to make sure students' needs are met

December 22, 2010|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Many people view the role of school counselors mainly as providing emotional nurturing while supporting students in their goals and aspirations, says Gayle Cicero, the counseling coordinator for Anne Arundel County schools. And the thought of counselors working to ensure that federal No Child Left Behind goals are met or that schools steadily draw money for students to attend college would seem foreign to some.

But today, Cicero says, the best guidance counselors work side by side with teachers to ensure that students excel as early as elementary school and continue to do so after graduating from high school. She has helped lead an effort in Anne Arundel that resulted in four county schools gaining national designation this year as model programs by the American School Counselor Association.

Oak Hill Elementary and Lindale, Brooklyn Park and Central middle schools were given the three-year honor of being a Recognized ASCA Model Program by the American School Counselor Association. Anne Arundel is the only school system in the state to earn the designation, county officials said. The school board recently recognized the schools at a meeting.

The honor stems from the county taking aggressive measures to ensure that students succeed. In Anne Arundel, Cicero says, all fourth-graders meet with counselors for an academic advising session to plan the course of their education.

"I daresay that is quite a shift in mind-set for the profession," said Cicero, who added that the county began the process with fourth-graders last year.

In seventh grade, she said, students take part in three-year planning sessions with counselors to chart where students are headed academically.

In high school, Cicero said, counselors "are to take a look at the amount of scholarship funds that students received in their school. And they look at student groups, those groups defined by No Child Left Behind. They are to enact and monitor a plan to make sure that students continue to be awarded scholarship money.

"It's not enough to help my school earn scholarship money, but we've taken it a step further. They're looking specifically and saying, 'In my school, are my African-American youths seeing increases in scholarship money?' or 'Are my students living in poverty experiencing an increase in access to scholarship money? And if not, what specifically am I going to do at my school to make it happen?'"

She said that while the county has always worked to get students scholarships, the increased efforts to make schools more accountable in doing so began three years ago. She said the county also works to ensure that students can continue to have access to learning and financial tools once they leave school. She said that also helps students who come from troubled backgrounds and might need additional support to ensure success.

"This focus on equity and access and paying attention to groups of students was not part of the landscape when I was in school," said Cicero, who attended high school in the 1980s.

"For students, you hear about the support [counselors give] with their personal problems, and I don't want to diminish that role of the school counselor. It's critical. We're not just advising students on how they feel … but we're saying to them, 'Let's take a look at your achievement data.'"

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