2010 School Counselor of the Year Finalists Talk High School Counseling

Two of the eight finalists for the 2010 School Counselor of the Year are counselors for high school students. Ketchikan High School, Alaska counselor Robert McClory and Heidi Green, director of counseling services for Fayetteville-Manlius School District, New York, were among the more than 250 elementary, middle and secondary school counselors nominated nationwide for the School Counselor of the Year.

For McClory, the development and running of a regional college fair for Ketchikan students and others in Southeast Alaska, is one of his top achievements. McClory is driven to help student create postsecondary plans and he enjoys calling colleges, helping with applications, and discussing options with students.

McClory is the 11th and 12th grade counselor. Originally from Highland Park, Ill., he obtained degrees from the University of Southern Illinois, the University of Montana, and The University of Miami before coming to Ketchikan in the late 1980s. “I am sort of a jack of all trades,” he says. “When a student comes into my office, he or she comes in with quick questions. There may be a dialogue on schedules and the like, but most interactions are more succinct.” It’s also not uncommon for McClory to be in the hallways during passing periods. He is known to hand out scholarship information to students and he makes himself available to help these students fill out forms.

All the seniors at Ketchikan must take senior government. McClory works with the government teachers and schedules time to work with them for a “guaranteed audience.” About every two weeks, he goes into the classes and talks about deadlines and other skills that students will need to succeed after high school. “As a counselor, you have to have commitment. It’s about never giving up and being willing to put in long hours. It’s the willingness and ability to write a letter of recommendation that doesn’t just inform, but also paints a picture and has the capacity to move a reader emotionally. It’s a commitment to develop and maintain the networks that give a counselor the resources to provide opportunities to students regardless of their plans and interests. I have a desire to help students find and secure opportunities available to them.”

McClory says he can relate to students because he has degrees from three universities and transcripts that come from more than a dozen schools. “I also have a lot of real world experience. I have been a carpenter, auto mechanic, grant writer, reading specialist and more. I have life experiences to share too. I want to give my students the chance to see the whole nation as a possible place of employment if they have a college diploma.”

Green not only coordinates and aids 13 counselors within the district, but also maintains a caseload of high school students. She says one of her top accomplishments is using Naviance, a Web-based software program that assists students in the career planning and college search process for her high school and for other high schools in Onondaga County. She says the traits that make the best counselors are almost innumerable. “Counselors need good communication skills and the ability to listen, but they must listen in a caring and compassionate way. Counselors need the ability to see the big picture and to understand a student’s world. This may include the family dynamics, the daily school structure with interaction with their peers and teachers. Then there are other adults, plus the community they grow up in. With my position in my district, I get to see students arrive as kindergartners and mature into young adults. I get to watch counselors bring out the best in that student.”

As with many counselors and counseling departments nationally, Green and her staff have divided the high school students by alphabet rather than grade so she is responsible for students entering high school, exiting high school and those in between. Green says 96 percent of the high school students at Fayetteville-Manlius High School are college bound. “We work with the students on a thorough knowledge of graduation requirements. It’s about those positive exit strategies from high school.”

Although the counselors at Fayetteville-Manlius High School don’t start an intense college discussion with ninth graders, they do work on character development. “We talk about how people watch what you do, more than what you say. This could be crucial with recommendation letters from teachers. Leave people with a good impression. We also talk about how their freshman year is the start of grades counting on a permanent record. This is the start of solid academic record. We also talk about getting involved. Colleges and universities like well-rounded students. It’s almost too late as a senior to get involved in clubs, sports and volunteering.” She says the freshman year is starting the framework that high school is constructed.

As sophomores, students develop a resume and participate in a career unit. “We talk about how colleges and universities look for a resume so they can start building one earlier than later,” she says. “That resume can help them see what activities or volunteerism they may need. They will really be asked what they did when they were not in class. It’s a developmental approach. It’s the logistics of moving through the college process during their junior and senior years. That’s where Naviance comes in. Current juniors can see where graduates went to college and how the current students stack up against the graduates. This way they can see if their SAT scores and GPAs are in line with the college students.”

Students should seek out five to seven colleges and universities, she says. There is usually a “reach” school in the mix. This is where the majority of last year’s incoming freshman class at the college had a GPA and SAT/ACT scores above the high schooler. Then there are two to three “target” schools where these scores match the high schooler. The one to two “likely” schools are those where scores are below the high schooler.

Green says the senior year starts with a daylong event during the first full week of school. Seniors participate in six workshops including “Inside the Admissions Office” from a local admissions director; a discussion on financial fitness to understand credit cards and debt; a period on motivation; and a common application time. “Students are often paralyzed when they fill out an application. We work through this process together.”

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