A raft of past programs have failed to substantially improve the reading skills of middle grade and high school students. CPS is trying once again, as part of a federal project that aims to help teens learn how to analyze complex non-fiction.
What makes or breaks a counselor
What works: Listening and giving support
The daunting transition from middle school to high school was even more challenging for Bowen High sophomore Olivia Rodriguez, who entered freshman year unable to write in English. "I've been having problems now that everything is in English," she says.
Her counselor helped by recommending that she take English as a second language courses for another year until her writing improved. He also suggested courses led by teachers who are patient with her struggle to grasp written English. Olivia hopes her counselor will also help her make a smooth transition to college. "He can tell me what university or college will be better for me," she says.
Danielle Robinson of Orr High says her counselor is a resource and advisor. She has visited him about once a week since entering her junior year.
"He suggested little ways of how I should go about [doing] things, education and attitude-wise," Danielle says. "He tells me to stay in my studies, take the ACT, go on the Internet and look for federal and state grants. Basically, just go after what I want."
What doesn't work: A discouraging attitude
Senn High senior Josh Justice, 17, will head to Columbia College this fall to major in journalism, but he gives no credit to his college counselor for helping him get there. "I've heard from some people that when they ask about colleges, she says 'Oh, I'm sorry, you don't have the GPA for that,'" says Josh. "You're supposed to give [students] confidence, not discourage them."
Too many students, too few counselors
Steinmetz High sophomore Arthesha Perry almost had more face time with the School Board at its January meeting than she has had with her school counselor. Arthesha, 15, was one of four Steinmetz students to address the board about various issues, including the school's counselor shortage. "Since freshman year, I've only seen [a counselor] two or three times," complains Arthesha, who adds that there is always a line at the counselor's office. "And with all the kids here, she has no time."
Along with greater access, Arthesha says she would like to see the counselor take an active interest in students' lives. "She won't come to us," she says. "I wish she would just come around and ask us stuff."
Jacqueline Guerrero went to see her counselor at Jones College Prep first thing last fall to lighten her advanced placement (AP) course load.
The 16-year-old junior says the counselor would not let her postpone taking AP Biology for fear that Jacqueline might slip from her ranking in the top 10 of her class. Determined to drop the course, Jacqueline switched to a different counselor who allowed her to alter her schedule. She says the new counselor is someone she can tell anything to and whose opinion she trusts. Jacqueline realizes her old counselor had good intentions, but she didn't understand her academic needs.
"I had already discussed [changing courses] with my parents and everything," says Jacqueline. "So I knew this was the best option for me and I wished she had understood that, too."