The key to counseling in urban schools
Tuesday, July 05, 2016
A former colleague of mine (now retired) at South Philadelphia High School once compared working in an urban high school to being on a rescue ship that goes to the scene of a sunken ship with many kids in the water.
"Some of them are really close to your boat, and it is easy to just reach down and put them in the boat with you. Some are farther away, and it takes little more effort to go and get them," Valarie Howard said. "Others are very far away and would take so much time and effort to get to that other closer kids would drown while you're taking time to save them. Sometimes you see something in the kids that are very far away from you, and you decide that it is worth the time to go after them. But the students who are swimming away from you, you just have to let them go."
One thing counselors must do in urban environments is build relationships with students. There are many reasons why this is more important in urban areas, but the main reason is students in urban areas learn not to trust people from outside the neighborhood.
Many good people they come across leave for better opportunities. These students then learn that people do not want to be around them, and when given the chance, will move on to something better. Therefore, students learn not to get close to adults from outside the neighborhood.
The first thing we need to do as counselors is prove by example that we are there with them for the long haul. Some ways we can do this are simple. going the extra mile, keeping your word, attending extracurricular activities, sponsoring student clubs, etc.
Show students they are worth your time and that you are willing to give it to them. Drop everything for students make sure they know they are more important than your lunch, your conversations with your colleagues, and the paperwork you have to do.
We as school counselors in urban areas must do everything we can to make sure hope survives. Our students live in despair, and it is our job to bring them from despair to hope, because if they do not get to hope then there is no chance of success for them.
The first part of bringing students to hope is getting them to trust you — to trust you will never lie to them, to trust you will always be sincere with them, and to trust you will always have their best interest in mind. Students in urban areas need someone they know they can count on, someone to advocate for them.
Do not be afraid to go in your own pocket to help a student or a student's family with something they need, like food or clothing. The student will tell other students, and this will get around.
Your reputation as a truly caring adult will permeate through the school, and when you say something students will believe and trust you. That is when you can start to instill hope and help them to succeed.
The second important part of what counselors must do in urban environments is collaboration with outside resource providers. Let's face it: There are many different programs in our urban areas, and they are all looking for students to service. But you hold the ear of the students, so this can become a win-win situation.
You help the programs gain access to students. They help you by being a presence in the school and running programs that will enhance your guidance program and curricula. If you have five outside service providers who serve students, it provides many things — such as a place for referral as well as someone who will come into your school and deliver, lessons, groups, workshops, etc.
All of us are busy, and five programs can help split yourself into five. You want to have a safe prom presentation and a service provider does it for you, that's one less thing you need to do. See what I am getting at?
Now, I know what people will say: "If I let the service providers come into my school and deliver so many services, then I will put myself out of a job." Wrong! The school will still need a point person to make sure the school's interests are being met and to coordinate the services.
We must reinvent ourselves to make sure our most needy students get what they need. For too long they have suffered because of adults who are unwilling to go the extra mile; for too long they have not gotten the services they need because someone was afraid to put himself out on a line for them; for too long they have not been in an efficient system because everyone is worried and fighting for what they believe is a job they need to save.
Being a school counselor is not a job. It is a calling, a lifestyle, a passion. It is a career that must permeate you to the core of your being.
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