Urban School Counseling: Context, Characteristics, and Competencies

By Lee, Courtland C. | Professional School Counseling, February 2005 | Go to article overview

Urban School Counseling: Context, Characteristics, and Competencies


Lee, Courtland C., Professional School Counseling


This article explores the nature of professional school counseling in urban settings. An overview of key characteristics of the urban environment and urban schools first provides context for the role of the professional school counselor in such a setting. Second, specific challenges facing urban school counselors are considered. Third, a set of urban school counseling competencies is discussed.

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Although the goal of education in any setting is fundamentally the same, ensuring educational success for all children, this mission takes on challenging dimensions in an urban environment. Complex issues that characterize life in cities and their immediate metropolitan surroundings often confound education in urban schools.

Professional school counselors working in urban schools must promote academic, career, and personal-social development against the backdrop of environmental issues that by degree are often more challenging than they are in suburban or rural educational settings. Although attention has been focused on rural school counseling in recent years (Hines, 2002; Morrissette, 1997, 2000), school counseling practice in an urban context has tended to be overlooked.

The purpose of this article is to explore the nature of professional urban school counseling. First, an overview of key characteristics of the urban environment and urban schools will provide context for the role of the professional school counselor in such a setting. Second, specific challenges facing professional urban school counselors will be considered. Finally, suggested competencies for advancing school counseling in an urban context will be discussed.

THE URBAN CONTEXT

To fully appreciate the issues confronting urban school counselors, it is important to examine the context for those issues. It is necessary, therefore, to define what is meant by urban and examine crucial characteristics of such an environment.

The U.S. Census Bureau (2002) classifies as urban all territory, population, and housing units located within an urbanized area or an urban cluster. It delineates urban area and urban cluster boundaries to encompass densely settled territory, which consists of (a) core census block groups that have a population density of at least 1,000 people per square mile, and (b) surrounding census blocks that have an overall density of at least 500 people per square mile. According to the Census Bureau, an urbanized area consists of densely settled territory that contains 50,000 or more people. An urban cluster consists of closely settled territory that has at least 2,500 people but fewer than 50,000 people. The Census Bureau introduced the urban cluster for the 2000 census to provide a more consistent and accurate measure of the population concentration in and around places.

Concomitant with the operational definition of urban, the Census Bureau also defines the general concept of metropolitan area. This is an area with a large population nucleus, together with adjacent communities that have a high degree of economic and social interaction with that nucleus. Each metropolitan area must contain either a place with a minimum population of 50,000 or a total metropolitan area of at least 100,000. A metropolitan area contains one or more central counties. It also may include one or more outlying counties that have close economic and social relationships with the central county.

Given these Census Bureau definitions, the term urban can be conceived of as referring to cities, and in most instances the municipalities or counties in close proximity to them. Conceptualizing an urban area in this manner suggests a number of important characteristics that may help to define the nature of such places. The following is a list of characteristics that help to define the urban context. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does represent many of the aspects that have come to characterize urban settings:

* Population density

* Structural density

* High concentration of people of color

* High concentration of recent immigrants

* High rates of reported crimes

* Per capita higher rates of poverty

* Complex transportation patterns

* High concentration of airborne pollutants

* Strong cultural stimulation

* Diversity in property values

* Inequities in the educational system

* Large, complex educational systems

* Inequities in the legal system

* Lack of community connectedness

* Cultural heterogeneity

* Inequities in access to health care.

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