Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Counseling

School Counselors' Activities in Predominantly African American Urban Schools: An Exploratory Study

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Counseling

School Counselors' Activities in Predominantly African American Urban Schools: An Exploratory Study

Article excerpt

Increasing criticism of public education in United States cities and metropolitan areas has prompted members of educational specialties (e.g., teacher education, school administration, school counselor education) to lead urban school reform initiatives (Holcomb-McCoy, 2005b). School Counseling has joined the urban school reform movement. In particular, The American School Counseling Association's (ASCA) development of the National Standards and the National Model (ASCA, 2005), as well as the Transforming School Counseling Initiative a component of the Education Trust (2003), are responses by members of the counseling profession to contribute to the most recent school reform efforts.

The ASCA National Model is a call for school counselors to design, coordinate, implement, manage, and evaluate comprehensive school counseling programs. In particular, the Model is a call to action for school counselors to promote student success by closing the existing achievement gap between underachieving students (many of whom are students of color or poor) and their more advantaged peers (ASCA, 2005).

The Transforming School Counseling Initiative extended ASCA's call to action for school counselors and with regard to how they serve students in urban schools. According to Lee (2005), urban schools largely reflect their neighborhood/residential environment and are typically in geographical areas characterized by a high concentration of people of color, higher rates of poverty per capita, and inequities in the educational system. Within this context, urban school educators have had to contend with a lack of resources, high drop-out rates, and institutional racism (Butler, 2003; Holcomb-McCoy, 1998, 2005, 2010; Moore, Henfield & Owens, 2008; Owens, Pernice-Duca, & Thomas, 2009). Based on these contextual issues that confront urban school personnel, the National Center for Transforming School Counseling made the following recommendations. First the school counseling profession should shift its focus to meet the needs of students for whom schools have been the least successful -low-income students and students of color. Second school counselors should be trained to serve as effective advocates for these particular student populations (Education Trust, 2011; Forbes, 2007; Martin, 2002; Martin, 2007).

Empirical evidence on school counselor activities that are reflective of these initiatives has emerged in the school counseling literature. For example, Holcomb-McCoy and Mitchell (2005) examined the activities of 102 school counselors who resided in six urban cities on the east coast (e.g. New York City, Newark, New Jersey). The study's participants perceived low family function, lower academic achievement, and poverty as prevalent issues facing urban schools. The authors acknowledged the need for school counselors in urban settings to be able to work in schools that offer minimal educational opportunities to their students, diminished access to resources, and unstable financial funding. They recommended that future studies should be devoted to examining school counseling activities that specifically address the academic needs of low income students and students of color. Similarly, in a 2009 study of 60 school counselors employed in urban school districts, Owens et. al. (2009) found that school counselors were overwhelmed with addressing issues such as high dropout rate prevention and encouraging low achieving students to be successful.

School counselors are ethically bound to develop comprehensive school counseling programs that advocate for and affirm all students from diverse backgrounds (ASCA, 2005). The primary reason for having a comprehensive guidance program in place is to clearly articulate what school counselors do in that particular school or school district. Although the role of school counselors has been studied and described in urban schools, there is a dearth of information available on the activities of school counselors in urban schools that are predominately African American. …

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