Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

The Practice of School Counseling in Rural and Small Town Schools

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

The Practice of School Counseling in Rural and Small Town Schools

Article excerpt

Focusing narrowly upon the increasing urbanization and suburbanization of the U. S. population might lead one to view rural and small town schools to be a decreasingly important bit of nostalgia. However, the U. S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (1998) reported that rural and small town schools comprise 37.8% of the total number of schools and serve 25.4% of the total number of enrolled students. In contrast, 37.2% of all schools, enrolling 33.5% of all students, are in areas defined as "large city" or "medium city."

Besides the reality that more than a quarter of U.S. public school students receive their education in rural and small town schools, there are other reasons for examining the nature of school counseling in this context. In a classic study, Barker and Gump (1964) found that small, rural schools were actually equal to or superior to larger schools on such important dimensions as: (a) the range of courses taken by the typical student, (b) rate of extracurricular participation, (c) access to leadership opportunities, and (d) feelings of responsibility. More recently, Cole (1990), while noting the problems of small rural schools, also asserted that

   these places are home in a society where the idea of home is becoming an
   abstraction not rooted in place. These places are home: like all homes,
   some are healthier than others. Like all homes, they are worthy of our very
   best efforts. (p. 48)

The experience of counselors in rural and small town American schools has been the focus of attention in the literature related to school counseling. A number of articles have considered program development issues or matters of day-to-day practice (e.g., Allen & James, 1990; Braucht & Weime, 1990; McLaughlin, 1990; Rose-Gold, 1991). Also there have been attempts to explore the impact of the rural/small town setting upon the actual and/or preferred role and function of school counselors (e.g., Dinkmeyer & Carlson, 1990; Gothberg, 1990; Hawes., Benton, & Bradley, 1990; Lund, 1990; Matthes, 1992; Saba, 1991; Sutton & Southworth, 1990; Worzbyt & Zook, 1992). However, with the exception of the Matthes and the Sutton and Southworth studies, these explorations were unclear about the breadth of the database upon which the observations were founded and were not specific about the analytical procedures used to develop their assertions and recommendations. Furthermore, we judged that the literature specifically related to counseling in rural/small town schools consisted primarily of opinion pieces (e.g., Dinkmeyer & Carlson, 1990; McIntire, Marion, & Quaglia, 1990; Worzbyt & Zook, 1992), and there were few data-based, systematically designed studies. Though some studies were found to have used questionnaires to develop descriptions of counselor role and practice in small town and rural schools (e.g., Baldo, Quinn, & Halloran, 1996; Matthes, 1992), the descriptive results ultimately rested upon the opinion of an individual or a small group of researchers concerning which aspects of counselor activity were important to include in their survey instruments.

Against this broad background of views and assumptions, about rural/small town schools, our particular concern was to examine the role and practice of school counseling in this environment. We did this for a number of reasons. The chief of these was our belief that school counselors can and do play an important part in strengthening positive educational and personal attainment for rural/small town students, and that an understanding of the day-to-day realities of counseling in these schools can contribute to the preservation of existing strengths and to the promotion of a positive learning environment. In addition, the study had immediate, practical significance for us since rural/small town schools are settings in which many of our past and current students work as counselors and counseling interns. …

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