Counselors juggle student demands


Oct. 5, 2006, midnight | By Soraya Chanyasubkit | 17 years, 8 months ago


When senior Josh Griner walked into his second-period AP U.S. History class during the second week of school, his teacher stared at him, puzzled, and asked him, "Why are you still in my class?"

ESOL counselor James Distler works through piles of papers in his office. Photo by Rosie Kaller

Since Aug. 31, Griner has spent six lunch periods in the counseling office trying to transfer from AP U.S. History to Sociology. He has filled out the counselor request form, completed the schedule change form, spoken with another counselor and has been advised to involve his parents. Georgette Small, Griner's counselor, won't allow the schedule change because he didn't file the request before the June 14 deadline.

In a school with 2,952 students and only 12 counselors, balancing student needs and requests can be overwhelming for counselors and students alike. Counselors' daily tasks include editing schedules, writing college recommendations and offering career and personal counseling. But with one counselor for approximately 250 students, counselors are hard-pressed to meet students' needs, and students are feeling the pinch.

"Cooperate and graduate"

When senior Melanie Samuels received her schedule on the first day of school, she had no third period, two sixth periods and an eighth period. Her counselor, Charlain Bailey, filled the hole with an entrepreneurship course. Her other two problems, however, were harder to fix.

On the second day of school, Samuels went to her sixth-period class, where the teacher told Samuels she did not teach that period. The next even day, she was told to go to room 231, where students rejected as student aides report. She was asked to search for a sixth-period teacher who would accept her as an aide.

On Sept. 6, she became an aide and dropped her eighth period. Though her scheduling conflicts were resolved, Samuels is dissatisfied with the way things turned out. She doesn't like the Marketing class, but it is too late to switch out.

For Griner, the story did not end as quickly. Over the summer, he requested a change in his schedule because he was not confident he could handle the workload for his current classes. Since his previous counselor had not explained the deadline for the schedule change request forms, Griner was left in a bind. But he persisted and e-mailed Small three times.

Small declined to comment about Griner's case specifically. She says that students have the responsibility to fill out the schedule change request form correctly and on time. After Marcia Johnson, the resource counselor, denied Griner's schedule request, it was finally approved by his administrator. Technically, students can change their schedules by July at the latest, according to Assistant Principal Linda Wanner. In September, changes are not permitted unless a senior needs a class to graduate or a student has a hole in his or her schedule.

According to counselor James Distler, the hardest part of creating a schedule is balancing classes to fulfill graduation requirements, the student's requests and the availability of classes.

A student's schedule is initially created by a computer base on a master schedule, explains counselor Melba Battle. When classes conflict, counselors and students consult to adjust schedules. Distler coined the saying "cooperate and graduate" to encourage Blazers to be flexible about scheduling problems.

As counselor for the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) department, Distler has a responsibility to adjust students' class levels when necessary. Carol Kengne, an ESOL student from Cameroon, does not know what grade she is in. Last year, she was in the ninth grade. This year, the 17-year-old wants to be placed in 11th grade, but Distler has not approved her request yet.

Building relationships

Despite the difficulties of scheduling, counselors try to build positive relationships with students. "I've got an open door policy," Distler says with a smile.

Small has guided students through numerous problems. At past schools, she has counseled a lesbian who was forced out of the house by her mother, a Korean student who had extremely overbearing parents and an Indian girl who was trapped in an arranged marriage. Working with these students has been a rewarding experience for Small. "Those are the moments I enjoy," she says.

For some, a counselor's guidance can be life-changing - both in school and out. Senior Jon Brookstone's former counselor, Lynn Wood, retired last summer, but he says she served as a touchstone during a difficult period in his life.

When Brookstone started his freshman year, he was struggling to keep up with the rigorous coursework in the Math, Science and Computer Science Magnet Program. To compound his academic problems, his parents had just separated, and his family was torn apart.

By second quarter, Brookstone was considering switching schools, but on Dec. 30, he says he had an epiphany. Brookstone wrote a list of his personal goals for the future. He gave this list to Wood and asked for her guidance. Every January since, Brookstone has discussed his future with his counselor. Now that Wood is gone, Brookstone is confident his counselor's replacement will advise him just as Wood did.

Besides helping students, counselors are responsible for fielding parent questions, answering e-mails, mailing transcripts and writing recommendations. "[It's] non-stop busy," Battle says.

Despite the challenges of the job, Distler feels that working as a counselor allows him to have a greater impact on students than he did as a teacher. After all, he says, the first priority is the student.



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Soraya Chanyasubkit. Soraya Chanyasubkit loves her name, Thailand, penguins, eating, making fun of people and music. She is silly, mean, and friendly. (The last two qualities are in no way of being contradictory.) She most likely hates you. And will willing and loudly say so. More »

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