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When guidance counselors need to care

ELINOR TATUM Publisher and Editor in Chief | 11/2/2011, 7:01 p.m.
When guidance counselors need to care

Many high school seniors are in a tizzy right now. They are beginning to realize that in just a few short months, their high school careers will be over and the next stage of their life will begin.

Some of the more fortunate ones from our community have been spending the last few months crossing the country on college visits with their parents. Others have gone to websites to take virtual tours, and many plan to access the quality schools that make up the City University of New York.

Whatever means students are taking, they are going to need some help and direction from their high school guidance counselor.

While this process can go smoothly for some students, especially if they have the support of parents and other family members who have gone through the process themselves or if they find themselves with a guidance counselor who believes in them, too many kids-especially children of color-find themselves in another predicament. These students find themselves in overcrowded high schools, with one guidance counselor for as many as 500 students. If they get a face-to-face meeting with the counselor once, they are lucky.

These overburdened professionals may hold the key to future success for our kids in their hands. They are the ones who are supposed to send out transcripts, make sure kids know about programs like the Percy Sutton SEEK program or HEOP, both of which assist students from families with limited or no college experience, and honors programs or simply get application fee waiver forms for needy kids.

Because of the ridiculous circumstances we put both the counselors and the students in, all too often the counselors are making choices about who they decide to help, while too many go by without any assistance at all.

The fact is that all young people deserve a chance at higher education. Unfortunately, in many circumstances many misguided counselors take what they see as the easiest path, one that does not take into account the full potential of each student to reach their highest heights.

I have heard stories from young people who went to guidance counselors and were told point blank: Only apply to community college because that is all you can afford. Or apply to one of those trade schools that cost an arm and a leg; they will give you loans because you are not "the academic type."

But how much can we really expect from these counselors, so many of whom are overloaded and may have only seen or met many of their students once?

The fact is that there are many colleges out there that are looking for a diverse student body and want to find students, especially Black and Latino students, with great potential.

A student should not rule out the chance for a college experience because they fear they cannot afford it. All students should be looking at this experience with hope and optimism. Most schools have scholarships, and some private colleges will fully meet their students' need, no matter what their parents are able to pay.

This means families need to fill out those financial aid forms, and it may mean finding that teacher in your place of worship or that college-educated person from our community to get that opportunity for your kid.

Unfortunately, there are those counselors who don't believe that our kids are worthy of a real education. When a young person has their heart set on trying to get into certain schools, they are shut down before they even get to apply. These counselors won't send out the transcripts or work to make sure fee waivers go into the schools.

These counselors need to be weeded out of the system because they are harming rather than helping our children. Every child has a right to pursue higher education-we can't let bad bureaucrats stop the dream from occurring.