Many of my friends, and many of the people at this school, rarely go to see their guidance counselor. And when they do, they have to wait outside their office for what feels like hours on end, just to get a simple question answered.
I am in a unique position where my self-advocacy for attention from my guidance counselor, Ms. Bent, and the personal relationship I have built has greatly benefitted my academic and emotional support in the high school.
For a brief history, almost 20 years ago, each “team”, those in either the 10th and 12th dean suites or the 9th and 11th grade ones had five guidance counselors, compared with the current four. In the past 20 years, there have been several cuts to guidance counselor positions that have left the remaining counselors with increasingly large caseloads.
About 20 years ago, guidance counselor’s caseload hovered around 180 kids per counselor. After a dip in the enrollment around 2009, caseloads also dipped to about 150. Because of the dip in enrollment, the administration took opportunities to not refill positions of guidance counselors. This meant as counselors, retired, or their contracts were not renewed, the administration decided to not refill those positions. The caseloads were then redistributed amongst the other guidance staff. However, as the enrollment increased, the positions were still left unfilled and now stand where they are today at around 215 or as high as 230.
As I talk to guidance counselors about this situation, one powerful metaphor from Clifton Jones struck me: “I went from being a family doctor to being an emergency room technician.”
With the undeniable rise in mental health problems amongst students, it begs the question: why is now the time in which the guidance counselors are taking on bigger caseloads, and thus unable to spend more time with each individual student?
Jones’ analogy powerfully captures the impact of the growing caseloads not only has on the guidance counselors themselves but on the student body as well. As the care for our mental health and academic needs increase, our guidance counselors are limited in how much they can individually help each of us.
I had the chance to speak with Headmaster Anthony Meyer about this issue, and while he may believe that I am just a puppet of the guidance counselor’s agenda, I still believe in the importance of lowering the guidance counselor caseload to allow them to focus on students more.
The administration has continually added more associate deans and deans, choosing to add to those positions, instead of restoring the guidance counselor FTE(Full-Time Equivalent, the workload of a full-time employee) to student ratio to previous numbers. While I don’t deny that associate deans and deans provide invaluable services to certain students, I also know many students who couldn’t even give you the name of any of their deans if you asked them. On the other hand, everyone knows the name of their guidance counselor and almost everyone goes to see their counselor at least once a year.
Guidance counselors provide the necessary help with students scheduling as well as post-secondary education planning. Most students will need assistance at least once in their high school career. This makes guidance counselors an invaluable service to students even with you the socio-emotional support they also could provide.
Ideally, students would be able to spend more time with their guidance counselor beyond the necessary scheduling meeting or the occasional handing in of forms. I also had the opportunity to speak with Head of Guidance Darby Neff-Verre, and she heavily emphasized the desire to hire more guidance counselors so that they could focus on what she referred to as tier one counseling. This kind of guidance counselor involvement is supposed to create more individualized relationships between guidance counselors and students.
These relationships would work to combat the mental health problems within our schools. This preventative work would allow for the school to possibly get ahead on giving students the help they need before there becomes situations of dire circumstances.
This couldn’t happen without the lowering of guidance counselor caseloads.
Brookline High School when compared with the other schools around us with similar academic rigor has much higher caseloads than that of the Newton schools or Wellesley, who, according to Neff-Verre are around 180-190. If the schools around us have similar resources and needs, why are they taking steps to help their guidance counselors, and Brookline is not?
While the proposal for next year’s staff positions only allots for an increase in .25 FTE for Guidance, Meyer told me that for the 2020-2021 school year, the administration plans to use some of the 10.0 FTE towards decreasing the guidance counselor caseload. I sincerely hope that it is not an empty promise, for the sake of guidance counselors and the student body.