Helping Seventh Graders Be Safe and Successful: A Statewide Study of the Impact of Comprehensive Guidance and Counseling Programs

Article excerpt

This article is reprinted with permission from: Journal of Counseling & Development, Summer 2001, Volume 79, published by the American Counseling Association.

Schools and school counselors in the United States today face a daunting array of challenges generated from profound social, cultural, and economic changes that occurred in the last half of the twentieth century and that will continue into the twenty-first century. The unprecedented number of violent acts in public schools helped motivate the Congress of the United States to consider legislation that would provide schools with money to hire more elementary school counselors. Keeping students safe has become a primary focus for everyone involved in America's schools. School counselors have an important role in promoting and maintaining student safety.

At a point in American history when schools are searching for effective ways to respond to issues of violence, drugs, dropouts, teenage pregnancy, adolescent suicide and depression, the quality of life (QOL) available to students in schools has become a critical educational issue. In the rehabilitation counseling literature, enhanced QOL has been linked to expanded opportunities individuals have to promote personal growth, fulfillment, and self-esteem (Kosciulek, 1999; Pain, Dunn, Anderson, Darrah, & Kratochvil, 1998). QOL has been defined as an overall assessment, based on both a subjective and objective evaluation, of one's emotional, physical, social, and material well-being (Felce & Perry, 1996). The subjective evaluation of students' QOL centers on their perceived personal satisfaction with the quality of education available in their schools. The objective evaluation of students' QOL focuses on their personal assessment of the physical and the interpersonal contexts that shape learning opportunities and social interactions within their schools. To help students satisfy their individual needs, increase the likelihood that they will experience some control over their school environments, be successful academically, and have real opportunities to make choices in their current and future learning, schools and school counselors must find ways to improve the QOL available to students.

In addition, public schools are charged with the task of promoting the development of future generations of citizens who can constructively participate in a democratic society that is competing in a constantly changing, increasingly technologically sophisticated global marketplace. Federal legislation (e.g., the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994) and reports (e.g., Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, 1991) have reflected widespread concern regarding the preparation needed today by young people to attain real economic opportunity. Full and equitable membership in such an economic future requires sophisticated and advanced academic preparation, particularly in areas of mathematics, science, and technology. The stakes are high, both for individuals and the nation as a whole.

Finding sustainable and systematic ways to motivate students to achieve academic success continues to be a major task facing school practitioners, educational researchers, and policy makers. In the educational psychology literature, research is accumulating that highlights the important role of the relationships between teachers and students in motivating academic achievement and social competencies for elementary and middle school students (Wentzel, 1999). Teacher-students relationships that are characterized by warmth, an absence of conflict, and open communication promote better school adjustments. Students benefiting from such relationships with teachers display a stronger sense of community in the school, more competent social behaviors, and improved academic performance (Schaps, Battistich, & Solomon, 1997). In the counseling literature, academic gains have been found when curriculum activities forge relevant, interesting connections to possible educational and career futures for students (e. …

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